On behalf of the San Mateo County Coroner's Office, I’d like to extend my deepest sympathy to you. To assist you during this difficult time, I have prepared answers to some commonly asked questions.
Where is my loved one being taken?
Your loved one is being taken to the Coroner's Pathology Division located at 222 W. 39th Avenue in San Mateo.
What do I do now?
When you feel you are able, you should:
- Contact a funeral home of your choice and tell them what has happened.
- Talk with family and/or friends who have previously had to make funeral arrangements and can assist you through this process.
*Funeral homes are required by law to quote services and prices over the telephone. It is a good idea to contact several funeral homes to inquire about their services and costs before making your decision.
After the funeral home selection has been made:
- Inform the funeral home that the Coroner’s Office is involved in determining the cause of your loved one’s death and that your loved one is located at the Coroner’s Office.
- You will be asked to sign a release form which authorizes the funeral home transport your loved one from the Coroner's Office to the funeral home that you have chosen to work with.
Can I contact the Coroner's Office?
Certainly. You may contact the Coroner’s Office at (650) 312-5562 and ask to speak with the on-duty deputy coroner. A deputy coroner is on-duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Is an autopsy always performed?
Not always. The Coroner will normally not perform an autopsy if all of the factors below apply:
- the death is a "Natural Death;"
- the deceased has a physician who knows the medical cause of death;
- the physician has treated the patient within 20 days prior to death; and
- the physician can furnish the Coroner with an acceptable cause.
If the Coroner determines that an autopsy or forensic examination is required, the Coroner may retain tissues, organs(s), blood and/or body fluids as necessary or advisable to the inquiry into the case, or for the verification of his/her findings. (Reference: California Government Code 27491.4)
Does the Coroner embalm?
No, only on particular cases for health reasons.
Why are autopsies performed?
There are a number of reasons. However, the general reason is to determine the medical cause of death. Another reason is to gather evidence for presentation in a court of law. At a later date, you will be glad we obtained this information for you. If we perform an autopsy, tissue may be removed for transplantation purposes, with your signed permission.
Is there a charge for these services?
There may be correspondence sent to the responsible person(s) explaining any Coroner's charges. Government Code Section 27472 authorizes the Coroner's Office to assess fees for removal and storage of the deceased.
When can I have the funeral?
Typically, on the fourth day after the death was reported, the funeral may take place. There are exceptions to this timeline, which will be communicated to you by the investigator, including homicide victims. A victim of homicide will be released when all evidence has been obtained.
How may I find out what caused my loved one's death?
- Call the Coroner at (650) 312-5562.
- Usually the cause of death will be determined by the late afternoon of the day following the death.
- Cases involving blood tests or microscopic examinations take longer, up to eight to ten weeks. These tests do not usually require the Coroner's Office to hold the deceased, so the family may proceed with funeral plans.
How may I retrieve property that was recovered by the Coroner's Office?
- Personal property of the deceased may be claimed at the Coroner's Office (50 Tower Road, San Mateo, CA 94402) during regular business hours; Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (excluding federal holidays). Appointments are required for property pick-ups.
- The next of kin must sign in the presence of the Coroner's Office or authorize in writing another person to receive the possessions.
- The normal priority order for next of kin is spouse, adult child, parent, brother or sister. Contact the Coroner's Office (650) 312-5562 with any questions regarding who is authorized to collect the deceased's personal property.
This document may be completed by the legal next of kin to allow another individual to act on his or her behalf. This document must be accompanied by a copy of the legal next of kin's government-issued identification (such as a driver license or passport).
(Department of Justice form)
As of January 2014, any firearm including long guns must be registered. The Coroner's Office will release a registered firearm to the legal next of kin who has sought the appropriate clearance from the Department of Justice.
How may I receive a death certificate?
- The Coroner’s Office will complete the medical information on the death certificate. Your selected funeral home will complete the demographic information on the death certificate.
- The certificate is filed by the funeral home with the Vital Statistics section of the County Health Department.
Certified copies are available through your funeral home or directly from the Health Department by calling (650) 573-2371 (fees apply).
How may I request a private autopsy when an autopsy to determine the cause of death is not required?
Autopsies are available for deaths which are not within the Coroner’s jurisdiction. These autopsies are done by written request of the legal next of kin, and the requestor pays customary charges for the autopsy. (California Government Code Section 27520)
For the fiscal year 2019-2020, the charge for a complete autopsy is $3,675.00. Depending on the circumstances, there may be additional charges. The cost of examination, if applicable, is also paid by the legal next of kin prior to the autopsy.
For further information, contact the Coroner's Office at (650) 312-5562 to speak with a Deputy Coroner.