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Notifying Family Members After Unexpected Deaths

Although death is not a rare event within healthcare settings, healthcare providers receive little to no training on how to notify family members that their loved one has died. The task can be stressful for the the family, as well as the provider, and the quality of the delivery of information can impact the health and well-being of the bereaved family. While the circumstances of death can vary widely, notifying family members after an unexpected death (e.g., accidents, suicides, homicides, medical mishaps, disasters, terrorism) can be particularly challenging. Such deaths will likely be shocking to the family and even more stressful if the deceased was a child, the death was violent or disfiguring, or the deceased suffered before death. Healthcare providers cannot lessen the loss of a loved one, but they can provide family members with clear, concise, and accurate information about the death, and access to helpful resources, in a way that is professionally responsible, empathic and culturally sensitive. The scope of responsibilities for health care providers regarding death notification is likely to vary depending upon the situation, the institution in which they work, and the availability of ancillary resources that share in the death notification process. Below are important guidelines that review the range of responsibilities that health care providers should recognize.

Click the topic titles for details about each one.


Gather information and prepare yourself

Engage other support

Collaborate with other stakeholders

Manage the notification setting

Deliver the News

Notify the family

Additional important conversations

Be prepared for the family’s reactions

Respect culture, race, and ethnicity

Follow up

Consider special circumstances

Avoid Pitfalls — Don’t…

Additional Resources


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“In Person, In Time”