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What to Do When Someone Dies at Home in Canada

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
September 7th 2022 - 13 minute read
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When a person dies at home, learn what procedures are required, including what to do if the death is expected or unexpected and what checklists should be followed.

When a person dies at home in Canada, how you respond and what action you need to take will depend on several factors, which include:

Below our team has outlined what to do when a person dies at home, given these different scenarios.

We also explain what to do after death at home if there is no plan in place and what to do after a death occurs if there is no plan and the person has no next of kin.

This article includes Canadian information and provides general guidance for Canada and specific guidance for Ontario and Nova Scotia, where Eirene provides cremation services.

Who is notified immediately after discovering that a person has died at home?

When someone dies, specific steps must be taken before the body can be released to a funeral home or family for final arrangements.

Unexpected death

If a death is unexpected, call 911. Emergency services are the first point of contact when someone unexpectedly dies at home. The protocol for emergency services varies depending on the province.

Ontario

In Ontario, for example, the fire department, ambulance, and police will be dispatched to the location. The fire department will attend briefly and then leave. The ambulance personnel will often try to revive the deceased person. If the individual is pronounced dead, the police will call the coroner on duty and wait until they arrive. The coroner will decide if the death needs to be investigated. If an investigation is initiated, a removal service will be called to take the body to the coroner's office. Once the body is released, the family can call a funeral provider or transfer service to pick their loved one up (if applicable).

Have a question? We're here to help

The Eirene care team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance and answer any questions you may have.

Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, call 911 if an unexpected death occurs. The police will provide you with direction, call in the provincial medical examiner as needed, and they will take whatever investigative actions are needed. Once the investigation is complete, the deceased person can then be released to a funeral provider, such as Eirene.

Expected death

Reporting a death differs when the death is expected. However, contacting emergency services, a funeral home, or a family doctor is common practice. The protocol for an expected death is discussed in detail below.

What to do when a person that dies at home is a family member, and the death is expected, and you have a post-death plan in place?

If the death of a family member is expected and a post-death plan is in place, specific protocols must be followed when they die. A post-death plan outlines roles, responsibilities, and activities involved in an expected home death.

Ontario home death

In Ontario, the death must be registered and a burial permit obtained before funeral services can commence. One part of the death registration involves obtaining a Medical Certificate of Death form and submitting it to the local municipal clerk's office. This form outlines the cause of death and must be completed by a doctor or coroner. Therefore, one of these individuals must be notified when someone dies.  

If a death is expected and a post-death plan is in place with the deceased person's doctor, families should notify care workers to come to the home when the death occurs.

A family’s first call will be to their loved one’s doctor or nurse, who will pronounce the death. The body can then be released to the family or picked up by a funeral provider or transfer service.

Have a question? We're here to help

The Eirene care team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance and answer any questions you may have.

Nova Scotia home death

When a post-death plan has been established for your loved one through a family doctor or palliative care team in Nova Scotia, then all there is to do is to follow the established plan when your loved one dies. There will be steps to take relating to who to call when the death occurs.

What do you do when a person that dies at home is a family member, and the death is expected, but no plan has been created?

If a family member dies in the home and it is expected, but there is no death plan in place, the protocol in Ontario will typically be the same as an unexpected death. This means that the family must call 911 first.

Emergency services will be dispatched to the location. The ambulance team will try to resuscitate the individual, and the police will notify the coroner on duty. The coroner will decide if the death will be investigated or if the body will be released to the family or a funeral provider. It is important to note that emergency services or a local coroner may need to ask the family questions about the circumstances of the death before arrangements can be made.

Ontario death without a post-death plan

In Ontario, if the doctor or emergency services are unavailable in the area, the death should be reported to the local Ontario coroner's office. If the circumstances of the death are uncertain, the local coroner's office or the Chief Coroner of Ontario should be contacted.

Nova Scotia death without a post-death plan

If there is no post-death plan approved by a family doctor or other medical professional who is actively providing care, then your first call after an expected death will be to your local non-emergency police line. In Halifax, that is 902-490-5020. The Nova Scotia RCMP non-emergency number is 1-800-803-7267. Non-emergency numbers for Nova Scotia communities are listed here.

If you are in doubt, you can call 911 and you will be directed accordingly.

Have a question? We're here to help

The Eirene care team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance and answer any questions you may have.

What do you do when the person that dies at home is not a family member?

If someone dies at their home without any family available, procedures will vary depending on if a post-death plan is in place. If one exists, care workers will be present or available and will notify the contacts outlined in the plan.

If the death is unexpected, emergency services should be called using 911. This procedure is discussed above.

Ontario

In Ontario, if the circumstances of the death are uncertain, the local coroner's office or the Chief Coroner of Ontario should be contacted.

Nova Scotia

Call 911 and report the death, and police will be dispatched to respond to the situation, and they will contact the provincial medical examiner when appropriate.

What do you do when a person dies at home and has no family or next of kin, and there has been no plan created on what to do with the body?

In this scenario, it is unlikely that a post-death plan will be in place. Therefore, emergency services must be contacted first, call 911. The responding personnel will follow the same protocol for an unexpected death or expected death without a plan (as discussed above).

Have a question? We're here to help

The Eirene care team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance and answer any questions you may have.

Ontario

If the circumstances of a death occurring in Ontario are uncertain or emergency services are unavailable, the local coroner's office or the Chief coroner of Ontario can also be contacted.

If there is no next of kin or post-death plan, the government will try to find someone to claim the body through a claimant search. A claimant is a person or organization that will take on the planning and financial responsibility for funeral arrangements and final disposition.

The local coroner's office will be responsible for the claimant's search if the death is an accident or suicide. However, if the death is expected, the facility where the death occurred is responsible for the search. For example, if the death occurs in a long-term care facility and there is no next of kin, the hospital must do the claimant search.

A claimant search begins with a review of records and known information about the deceased. If no claimant is found through this, the case will be referred to the Office of Public Guardian & Trustee Estates (OPGT). The OPGT will continue the search. If no claimant is found or if a claimant does not want to claim the body, documentation will be submitted to the Regional Supervising Coroner's office.

Funeral arrangements for unclaimed bodies are made by the Office of the Chief Coroner. Funerals and burials are conducted as respectfully and affordably as possible.

Learn more about the claimant search process in this article.

Nova Scotia

When a person with no next of kin dies in Nova Scotia, upon the discovery of the death, 911 should be called, and the death should be reported.

With regard to a person’s estate, if the person has died without a next of kin, any member of the public may refer an estate to the provincial Public Trustee. However, please note that estates are usually referred to the Public Trustee by one of the following personnel or entities:

  • Police officers
  • Social workers
  • Hospital staff
  • Friends of the person who died
  • Funeral homes
  • The lawyer for the person who has died
  • Relatives who live outside the province
  • Members of the public
  • The Medical Examiner’s Office

You can learn more about the process in this Nova Scotia government web document: Frequently Asked Questions about Deceased Estate Services on NovaScotia.ca.

What to do when someone in Ontario dies with an EDITH or palliative plan in place?

EDITH stands for Expected Death in the Home Protocol. This is an end-of-life plan in Ontario that helps support end-of-life care in the home and honour the wishes for no resuscitation. It may also be called a palliative care plan, post-death plan, expected death at home plan, etc.

An EDITH outlines procedures for pronouncing and certifying a death in the home. This involves entering into an agreement with a doctor or registered nurse practitioner to complete the Medical Certificate of Death (MCOD) within 24 hours after death. The process also involves completing a Do Not Resuscitate order.

When an individual has an EDITH, the family or caregiver will notify the physician or nurse to pronounce the death. The body is released once the death is pronounced and the Medical Certificate of Death is completed. A funeral provider cannot pick up the body until the MCOD is completed. If working with a funeral home, the staff will ensure the physician or nurse completes the Medical Certificate of Death. If the attending physician or nurse (or their alternate) is unavailable, the funeral home will contact an on-call coroner.

Home and Community Care Support Services (HCCSS), formerly Local Health Integration Networks, oversees home palliative care. Learn more on the HCCSS webpage. Find your local ​​HCCSS provider at the following link: https://healthcareathome.ca/.

What to do when someone in Nova Scotia dies with a palliative plan in place?

In Nova Scotia, be sure to follow the palliative plan if you have one as set out by the palliative team or facility you have been working with.

Have a question? We're here to help

The Eirene care team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance and answer any questions you may have.

What are the provincial government resources available for what to do when someone dies at home?

Ontario

Examples of an EDITH or palliative care plans:

Nova Scotia

Questions about final arrangements?

If you need to make final arrangements for a loved one, you can contact our team at Eirene by clicking here. For questions, email support@eirene.ca. Eirene is a cremation service provider that operates in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Eirene has applications pending with regulatory bodies in several other Canadian provinces.  Please see our news blog for updates.


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