Frequently Asked Questions

Medical Examiner vs. Coroner, what's the Difference?

In the state of Wisconsin, each county individually chooses between one of two death investigation systems: a Coroner system or a Medical Examiner system. In general, a “Medical Examiner system” is one in which the office is supervised by a 'Medical Examiner', who is a county official appointed by the County Executive and/or the County Board of Supervisors. In the state of Wisconsin, the Medical Examiner is not required to be a forensic pathologist or physician. In contrast, a “Coroner system” is supervised by a 'Coroner' who is an elected official. Coroners in the state of Wisconsin are not required to be forensic pathologists or physicians. Both systems have the same authority under Wisconsin state statute.

Who can I speak to about a death investigation?

To inquire about a death investigation, you may contact the our office at 920-232-3300. Our normal business hours are Monday-Friday, 8 am to 2:00 pm. If you have questions outside of these hours, please call our dispatch line at 920-561-2125 and leave a message. This message is sent to the on call Medical Examiner. 

You must provide your name, the name of the deceased, the date of death (actual or approximate), and your relationship to the deceased.

Keep in mind that, while we do our best to keep families informed, we may not be able to answer all questions if the investigation is incomplete or if release of the information would compromise an active criminal investigation.

Is it necessary that I identify the body at the Medical Examiner’s Office?

Only in rare instances do we require family members to come to our facility to make a visual identification based on a photograph (for example, when the remains are those of an unidentified person or when the identification has not been previously confirmed).

The Winnebago County Medical Examiner's Office (WCMEO) does not allow the viewing of decedents at our facility under any circumstances. Since the funeral home is the more appropriate setting for the viewing of remains, we ask families and friends to be patient and allow us to complete our examination, so that the decedent can be quickly released to the funeral home of their choice.

How can I find out about the cause of death?

Following the post-mortem examination of a decedent’s body, the Deputy Medical Examiner (Investigator) will contact the legal next of kin with preliminary findings (if they wish to be notified). If the cause of death cannot be determined immediately (requiring further investigation and/or studies), the death certificate may be signed as "Pending". You may obtain a copy of a certified pending death certificate either through your funeral home, or the local Register of Deeds Office. This certificate documents that the death occurred which may be suitable for you in closing final matters. Once cause and manner of death have been determined, the legal next of kin will be notified. At this time, an amended certified death certificate listing the final cause and manner may be obtained either through your funeral home or the local Register of Deeds Office.

How can I get a copy of the death certificate?

The death certificate is completed in two sections: the medical portion is completed by the Medical Examiner/Deputy Medical Examiner of the WCMEO, while the remainder is completed by the funeral home. Once the death certificate is completed, it is the responsibility of the funeral home to file the document with the WI State Office of Vital Statistics. The funeral home can then provide you with copies of the death certificate.

Can a “pending” death certificate be used as proof of death?

Yes. "Pending" as cause and/or manner of death implies that additional studies are necessary, such as drug testing, microscopic tissue examination, etc. A death certificate, even a pending certificate, is a legal document which serves as proof that the named individual has been pronounced deceased. If any problems arise in the acceptance of this document as proof of death, please call the office at 920-232-3300 for assistance.

What if the funeral is being held out of state?

When a funeral and burial is to be held in another state, the family should contact the funeral director of their choice in that state. That funeral director will then take charge of making arrangements for the transport of the decedent’s body by contacting a local funeral director. The family should notify the out of state funeral director that the deceased’s death is being investigated by the WCMEO.