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.
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.
Can I come see my loved one while they’re at the Coroner’s Office?
The Coroner’s Office Pathology Division is not an ideal place for the viewing of a loved one. Visitation of a loved one should be arranged with and take place at your chosen funeral home.
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.
When can I have the funeral?
In most cases, it is safe to assume that on the fourth day after the death was reported to the Coroner’s Office a funeral may take place; however, it is best to contact the Coroner’s Office directly to understand the timeline for the release of your loved one. In some cases, such as cases involving victims of a homicide, the deceased would only be released after all necessary evidence has been obtained.
Why is the Coroner’s Office involved?
As defined by CA Government Code 27491, the Coroner’s Office investigates any non-natural death including, but not limited to, deaths involving criminal actions, accidents or injuries, operating room deaths, suspected poisonings or overdoses, occupational hazards, and suspected sudden unexplained infant deaths. The Coroner’s Office also investigates any natural death in which the decedent was not seen recently by a physician, or the medical history was unknown. Additionally, any person who dies while in custody of a law enforcement agency, or has a known contagious diseases posing a public health threat will also be investigated. Decedents who are initially found unidentified must be identified and are taken under the jurisdiction of the Coroner’s Office.
Is there a charge for these services?
Government Code Section 27472 authorizes the Coroner's Office to assess fees for removal and storage of the deceased. A Coroner’s Office representative will communicate with the responsible person(s) to explain any Coroner's Office related charges.
*The fees will be paid through the funeral home, not directly to the Coroner’s Office.
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 located at 50 Tower Road in San Mateo during regular business hours Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., excluding federal holidays. Appointments are required. Please contact the Coroner's Office at (650) 312-5562 to schedule an appointment.
*The next of kin must sign in the presence of the Coroner's Office or authorize in writing another person to receive the property. A government-issued photo identification must be presented at the time of the property release.
These forms may be completed by the legal next of kin to allow another individual to act on his or her behalf. Both documents must be accompanied by a copy of the legal next of kin's government issued identification (such as a driver license or passport).
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.
Why are autopsies performed?
There are a number of reasons why autopsies are performed; however, the most basic reason is to determine the medical cause of death. An autopsy may also be performed to gather necessary evidence for presentation of a case in a court of law
Is an autopsy always performed?
Not always. The Coroner will usually NOT perform an autopsy if the deceased has a physician who knows the medical cause of death. Under the Coroner's jurisdiction, the type of examination performed is determined by the Coroner's forensic pathologist to the extend deemed necessary to determine cause of death. Examinations types include a clinical review of records, an external-only examination, a limited examation, or a full autopsy examination.
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. (Ref: Ca. Government Code 27491.4)
How may I find out what caused my loved one's death?
Call the Coroner at (650) 312-5562. Usually the examination will have been completed by the late afternoon of the business day following the death. The cause of death may be known at that time; however, cases involving blood tests or microscopic examinations may take up to ten to twelve weeks before the cause of death is determined
*These tests do not usually require the Coroner's Office to hold the deceased, so the family may proceed with funeral plans.
Does the Coroner embalm?
No. However, there are unique occasions that a body must be embalmed for health reasons.
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 can I obtain a copy of the Coroner’s Report?
A written request is required to obtain a copy of the Coroner’s Report. You may go to the page “Request a Report” under the “General Information” tab near the top of the page to complete an online request.
How may I request a private autopsy?
Private autopsies can be requested for deaths which do not fall under the Coroner’s Office jurisdiction. These autopsies can be completed by the Coroner’s Office after the legal next of kin gives written consent, and pays in advance the customary charges for the private autopsy. (CA Government Code Section 27520)
I hope this pamphlet has been of some help to you. I, again, extend my sincerest sympathy to you during this most difficult time. I assure you that your loved one will be treated with the utmost respect and dignity while he or she is with the Coroner’s Office. The purpose of the investigation of the Coroner’s Office is to search for the truth. The impartial medicolegal death investigation helps to support and protect the public.
Please be assured that my office is at your service. If there are any other questions, please call (650) 312-5562.
Robert J. Foucrault, Coroner