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The County of DuPage
Wheaton, Illinois

Information for Families: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a Coroner?

A Coroner is an elected public officer whose chief duty is to determine causes of death. Historically, the Coroner system using licensed Forensic Pathologists to perform the county’s autopsies.

What types of death are investigated by the Coroner?

In general, those deaths suspected to be homicides, suicides, accidents, or sudden unexpected natural deaths are investigated by the Coroner’s Office. More specific situations are described here (CLICK TO 3013)

Why is the Coroner's Office involved?

Under Illinois law the Coroner is both required and empowered to determine the cause and circumstance of certain deaths. In general, deaths of a sudden and unexpected nature are investigated. All deaths related to any type of injury or intoxication must be investigated by our office. This includes deaths that are obviously due to trauma (such as motor vehicle related fatalities) and deaths that are known or suspected to be due to drug or alcohol intoxication. In addition, if an injury or intoxication merely contributes to the death - even in a small way - or is suspected to have contributed to death, the death falls under our jurisdiction. This applies to situations where an individual dies of complications of a prior injury, even if that injury occurred many years ago.

How is the body transported to the Coroner's Office?

If required, transportation of the decedent’s body will be arranged by the Coroner through a private contractor.

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a thorough surgical examination of the body, internally and externally, performed to document injuries, diseases, and even normal conditions of the body. Additional tests may be performed such as toxicology as indicated. The procedure is performed by a medical doctor with special training in recognizing the appearance of injuries and the effects of diseases. All of our doctors have been trained in Forensic Pathology. 

Do I have to pay for an autopsy?

There is no charge to the family for an autopsy that is required by the State of Illinois to be investigated. The cost is absorbed through the operation of the Coroner's Office and funded through tax dollars.

Can I request an autopsy be performed?

If the Coroner does not require an autopsy for official purposes, the legal next-of-kin may request that an autopsy be arranged by private pathology services.

Will an autopsy always be performed?

An autopsy may not be required when the death is known to be the result of natural causes, adequate medical history exists, and there are no signs of foul play. Autopsies are required when there is evidence or reasonable suspicion of foul play. In some accidental or self-inflicted traumatic deaths the interval between the injury and the death is such that there has been adequate medical documentation of the fatal injuries and other contributing factors, and there are circumstances when an external examination, scene investigation, and medical history allow adequate documentation of the cause and manner of death without an internal examination. We are not required by law to autopsy all non-natural deaths. At the discretion of the Coroner, an external examination may be used to confirm the cause and manner of death.

When an autopsy is not desired by the family, we try and are usually able to accommodate their wishes. However, often we cannot due to our obligation to fulfill our state mandated function or meet the needs of law enforcement agencies.  

Will I still be able to have an open casket service if an autopsy is performed?

Yes. Autopsies are performed in a professional manner that does not interfere with the viewing of the deceased, provided that the body was in a condition suitable for viewing prior to the autopsy.

Is viewing or visitation allowed while the body is under the jurisdiction of Coroner?

Viewing or visitation is not allowed while the body is at the Coroner's facility. This activity should take place at the mortuary chosen by the next-of-kin. 

How long will it take before the body is released from the Coroner's jurisdiction? 

The decedent’s body will be available for release as soon as the examination is complete. The timing is dependent on the complexity and circumstances concerning the death, Upon receipt of a signed authorization (Order for Release form) from the legal next-of-kin, the decedent’s body will be released to a mortuary or other service (e.g. cremation society, transportation service) designated in the authorization.

Can a Coroner case still be an organ or tissue donor?

Yes. Once family members have expressed interest, local tissue and organ procurement services work closely with the Coroner to allow such donations whenever possible.

What happens to the decedent’s personal effects

At the scene of the death, the Medical Examiner Investigator may take custody of personal property belonging to the decedent. The property is logged, secured, and available for release to next-of-kin during normal business hours if it is not being held as evidence. If authorized by the next-of-kin, property may be released to the mortuary for its further delivery to the family.

Who contacts the funeral home and when?

The legal next of kin of the decedent selects a funeral home or crematory. The funeral director will take care of the remaining details. Advise the funeral home that the body is under the jurisdiction of the Coroner.

How do I obtain a certified copy of the death certificate?

Certified Death Certificates are obtained at the DuPage County Health Department.

You may request certified copies of the death certificate from the mortuary who will obtain them when they are ready from the County’s Health Dept. The telephone number for the Vital Records Office is (630) 682-7400 if you wish to order copies directly at the Health Department website page.

What does "pending" mean on a death certificate?

In some cases we are unable to record a definitive cause and/or manner of death on the death certificate immediately following our examination. After the exam is completed, it is sometimes necessary for us to perform microscopic, chemical or toxicological tests in order to arrive at the exact cause of death. Therefore, a final death certificate will not be issued until until all investigation is completed.

The death certificate shows the cause of death as "pending" Can I use this as proof of death?

If a death certificate lists a cause of death as "pending", it will eventually be amended to reflect the actual cause of death, although this may take many weeks. A "pending" death certificate can be used as proof of death.

When will the Coroner's investigative, toxicology and autopsy reports be ready and how do I obtain copies?

Copies of the autopsy, investigative and toxicology reports will usually be available a few weeks after the cause of death is determined and a death certificate is filed. If you desire these reports, please telephone or write or e-mail this office with your request. View Fee Schedule

Who can I call if I have questions about the Coroner's investigative, toxicology or autopsy reports I received?

Please call our office at (630) 407-2600 if you have any questions.