The Coroner's Office is often asked numerous questions following the death of a family member. Here are some of the most common questions and the answers:
When does the Coroner's Office become involved?
State Law requires the Coroner to be notified when a death occurs under certain circumstances. The Coroner performs an investigation and arrives at the cause and manner of death, and either completes or arranges the completion of the death certificate. Georgia Law requires the County Coroner to investigate the circumstances and determine the cause and manner of death of all deaths that are:
- Sudden, when a person is in apparent good health
- Not under the care of a physician
- Suspicious, unusual or unexplained
- The result of violence
- Unlawful or due to criminal neglect
What does manner of death mean?
There are five determinations for manner of death:
- Homicide - the death was caused by the actions of another person.
- Natural - the death was from diseases or medical conditions such as cancer or heart attack.
- Accidental - an unintended death
- Suicide - a death that is intentionally self-inflicted
- Undetermined - there is little or no evidence to establish, with medical
Many people, including the media, confuse the terms homicide and murder. Murder is a criminal charge or the unlawful taking of a human life by another. After the coroner determines the manner of death to be a homicide, then law enforcement investigate that death to determine if there is probable cause to bring the criminal charge of murder against the person who caused the death. While all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders. If a homeowner, fearful for his or her life, kills an intruder or a law enforcement officer kills someone in the line of duty, both are considered homicides but not necessarily murder.
Where is my loved one taken?
In most cases the deceased person is released to a funeral home of the family's choice. Should a funeral home be unavailable to receive the deceased, the Coroner’s Office will transport to the county morgue. If an autopsy is required, the deceased person is transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations office in Decatur. Autopsies are performed by pathologists/forensic pathologists. Upon completion of all investigations the Coroner’s Office will release the deceased to the funeral home of the family's choosing.
Am I required to identify the body?
Identity of the deceased is usually determined through methods other than visual identification by family or acquaintances, and a visual ID is not required. Only in very rare cases are such identifications required. In the majority of cases, visual identification is not required. If visual identification is required, you will be notified by the Coroner’s office.
Is viewing allowed?
The Coroner's Office strongly discourages viewing prior to the deceased being released to a funeral home. Should a decedent require further investigation by the medical examiner; no viewing is permitted. This process is required for maintaining proper medical legal protection.
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a post-mortem medical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of the body in order to determine or assist in determining the cause and manner of a person's death; it can also provide information on the presence of diseases or injuries that may have been contributing mortality factors. An autopsy is performed by a pathologist or forensic pathologist.
Who decides if an autopsy is required?
The law. According to the law, the cause and manner of death must be determined for every death, in most non-violent cases, we use medical information from the decedent’s medical record and family history to establish the most likely cause of death. If medical evidence cannot be established from these sources then an autopsy is required.
Do I have to pay for an autopsy to be done?
No. There is no charge to the family for autopsies performed under the Coroner’s jurisdiction.
How do I obtain a Coroner’s report, autopsy report and toxicology report?
In most cases the Coroner’s report is available within three business days. Simple autopsy reports such as heart attacks or strokes, where the cause of death is obvious are normally ready within thirty days. Autopsy reports are generally available three to four months from the date of death. The results of Toxicology and other studies can take longer. One copy of the autopsy report is available at The Georgia Bureau of Investigation Open Records Department. Immediate next of kin means one of the following in this order: spouse, adult child, parent, brother/sister, niece/nephew. Please submit your request in writing to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Open Records Office. An autopsy report may take as long as 26 weeks, depending on the level and type of test being done.
Open Records Unit
Georgia Bureau of Investigation
3121 Panthersville Road
Decatur, Georgia 30034
You can also Fax your request to 404-270-8529 or Email your request to OpenRecords@gbi.state.ga.us
How long will it take before my loved one is released from the Coroner’s Jurisdiction?
Depending on what time of day the Peach County Coroner’s office is notified and takes jurisdiction, the medical information available to the Coroner at that time, and the circumstances surrounding the death, the body may be released the same day or later on the next day. In cases of suspicious deaths or deaths that require further investigation, your loved one’s remains may be held for additional time. State law requires the release of remains no later than 24 hours after a demand for release is made by an authorized person unless by that time the peace officer, medical examiner, or coroner has made a written finding that foul play may have been involved in the death of the deceased.
What is a pending case?
Pending means that the cause and manner of death are still under investigation. Pending cases may be cleared in as little as two days or may remain pending for several months. The average pending case in Georgia is cleared in six to eight weeks. If you are the next of kin and you move or change your phone number, it is imperative you inform our office at 706-613-3999 so you can be notified first when the pending case is completed.
What happens to the personal property of the deceased?
Once the closest next of kinship has been established or a court order is issued naming an individual as the administrator of the estate all property is released to that person or persons.
What happens to the prescription drugs issued to the deceased?
Federal Law states that it is a violation to be in possession of drugs not issued to you by prescription, therefore, when a person dies all drugs issued to the deceased person are removed and destroyed.
Who can authorize the release of remains after an investigation?
The deceased will only be released to a licensed funeral director. It is important for the next of kin to select a funeral director as soon as possible and notify this office at 478-825-2424 of their selection. Contact by a funeral home is not sufficient. The next of kin is defined in the following order:
- Spouse - This is a husband or wife of a couple that is legally married; they may be separated but, not divorced
- Children of the deceased who are older than 18 years of age
How do I get a death certificate?
The funeral home selected by the family will generate a death certificate and send it to the coroner’s office for signature; we sign the certificate and return it to the funeral home which in turn files it with the Georgia Department of Health, Vital Records section.
What should I do when the body is released by the coroner?
As soon as possible a funeral home must be selected to handle funeral arrangements for the deceased. These professionals are aware of the difficulties you are experiencing and the stresses that you are under, and will assist you with arrangements. When you contact the funeral director, advise them that the deceased is under the Coroner’s jurisdiction. The funeral director will, in turn, contact our office and make arrangements to pick up your loved one. If you have any questions or if we can assist you, please call 478-825-2424.
Does the Coroner's office assist with funerals?
In most cases the answer is no. It is the family's responsibility to assume custody of the decedent and bury the body. Even if there is no insurance on the decedent it is NOT the responsibility of the Coroner's office to bury the family member.
What if I can't afford funeral arrangements?
If your loved one did not have burial funds, the next-of-kin may ask for assistance in government and private sources. Your funeral home can provide you that information.
What about military benefits?
People who served in the Armed Forces may be entitled to veterans benefits. Seek more information from the Veterans Administration (VA) at www.cem.va.gov. Your funeral home will also have that information.
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 in a normal manner.
What happens to unclaimed bodies?
If the death has occurred within the last couple of hours and the body can be or has been removed to a refrigerated (morgue) room and NO next of kin is located the body may be turned over to science for research or teaching purposes. Some unclaimed bodies are buried in the "Paupers Cemetery" by the Coroner's Office.