At the Massachusetts General Hospital Office of Decedent Affairs, we want to extend our deepest condolences for your loss. Losing a loved one can be very sad and stressful. We’re here as a central resource for all questions and concerns you may have while making final arrangements for your loved one.
We will make every effort to provide you with support and can connect you with spiritual care, bereavement groups, and social services if you are interested.
Below, you will find a list of resources and checklists to help get you started with making final arrangements, including how to request an autopsy or autopsy report as well as how to access support services and financial government resources for burial.
The Office of Decedent Affairs is open daily 7 days a week from 8 am to 4 pm. We can be reached at 617-643-7550.
Checklist for Final Arrangements
- Request or Decline Autopsy: The clinical care team will contact the family shortly after death to offer an autopsy. To request an autopsy, you must be listed as the Health Care Agent or next-of-kin. The order of the legal next-of-kin in Massachusetts is:
- Health care agent
- Surviving spouse
- Children, grandchildren, etc.
- Sisters and brothers
- Choose a funeral home: The funeral home will make arrangements for transport (local or international), burial or cremation, and obtain a copy of the death certificate for the family
- Obtain Death Certificate (10-15 certified copies recommended): The funeral director will provide you a copy of the death certificate or you may request copies at Boston City Hall, 2-3 days after death. Mass General cannot provide you a copy of the death certificate. The death certificate allows you to update your loved one’s financial information such as closing bank accounts, canceling credit cards and contacting life insurance
- Request the Autopsy Report (if requesting): First, become Executor of the patient’s estate at Mass.gov through Probate and Family Court. Contact Mass General Medical Records once you are the Executor at 617-726-2361
Important Phone Numbers
- Decedent Affairs Office: 617-643-7550
- Massachusetts General Hospital (main line): 617-726-2000
- Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care: 617-726-2220
- Medical Records: 617-726-2361
- Patient Advocacy: 617-726-3370
- Social Services: 617-726-2643
- Boston Police Department: 617-343-4250
- Boston City Hall Registry Division: 617-635-4175
- Department of Transitional Assistance Burial Unit: 877-382-2363
- Office of Chief Medical Examiner: 617-267-6767
- Social Security Administration: 800-772-1213
- Veterans Affairs: 800-827-1000
- New England Donor Services: 800-446-6362
Funeral and Burial Assistance
If you need help paying for funeral or burial expenses, financial assistance is available dependent on eligibility requirements. Most funeral homes are aware of these programs and will be able to assist you. For more information:
Massachusetts State Assistance
Department of Transitional Assistance Burial Unit (up to $1100 available)
Social Security Administration (call to check eligibility)
The deceased must have served in the U.S Military. Survivor benefits vary; call to check eligibility. For more information regarding additional benefits or controlling costs for funeral arrangements, call Mass General Social Services at 617-726-2643.
When a Baby Passes On
If your baby passes away, the nursing staff will create a memory box. Your memory box will contain photos, footprints and a lock of hair for a keepsake. Please ask your nurse how to receive your memory box.
Burial Options: There are two options for your baby.
- You make arrangements with a funeral home for burial or cremation
- Mass General arranges with a funeral home for you to have the remains buried in a recorded but unmarked common gravesite
Valuables and Personal Belongings
When a decedent’s belongings are not taken by the funeral home at the time of release, it is a policy that the belongings will be held for THIRTY (30) days. The decedent’s Next of Kin (NOK) will be contacted. If after 30 days, the belongings are not claimed, they will be discarded. Examples include personal effects, like dentures, glasses, clothing, hearing aids, or valuables, like cash, wallets, jewelry, cell phones, laptops.
A death certificate is an official legal document that certifies your loved one has died. Most people get 10-15 copies to assist with legal and financial matters.
Mass General cannot provide a copy of the death certificate.
The death certificate will allow you to activate their will and assist with important legal and financial matters. (For example, closing bank accounts, canceling credit cards and contacting the life insurance agency.)
There are two ways you can obtain copies of the Death Certificate:
- Your funeral director
- Boston City Hall (or city of death if outside Mass General)
Boston City Hall
1 City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201-2006
Autopsies and Autopsy Reports
What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a medical exam of a body after death. An autopsy may be done for many reasons, including:
- To establish the cause of death when a suspicious or unexpected death occurs
- To confirm a known or unknown medical diagnosis
- To assist in understanding the disease process, which can advance our knowledge and contribute to the research of life-saving medicine
Who can request an autopsy?
The Health Care Agent or legal next-of-kin can request or decline an autopsy once a patient has died, and the hospital files the Report of Death. Autopsies for Mass General patients are free of charge to the family.
Requesting an autopsy report
The official autopsy report can take 60-90 business days or longer for complicated cases.
To request the autopsy report, according to Massachusetts state law, you must be legally appointed as the Executor/Executrix/Administrator of the Estate, Personal Representative or the Voluntary Administrator.
Even if you are the Health Care Agent or the person who requested the autopsy, you must also be the Executor of the patient’s estate, or one of the above legal administrators to request the report.
To become the Executor, you need to file a formal or informal probate for an estate with the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts or your primary city of residence. You can do this online at mass.gov or call the Probate and Family Court in your area. You can reach Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts at 617-788-6600.
- To file, go to https://www.mass.gov/guides/file-a-formal-probate-for-an-estate
- This process can take 60-90 days
Once you are the Executor/Executrix/Administrator of the Estate, Personal Representative or Voluntary Administrator you can request the report from Mass General Medical Records/Release of information at 617-726-2361.
- To request online go to https://www.massgeneralbrigham.org/patient-information/request-medical-records
- Download and complete the Mass General authorization form, including signature and date
- Mail or fax your request along with proof of Executorship to:
Release of Information
122 Inner Belt Road, Room 240
Somerville, MA 02143-4453
Counseling and Grief Support
The Mass General Chaplain Service supports all faiths and diverse spiritual needs 24 hours a day. If you would like spiritual care, you may also contact them directly at: Phone: 617-726-2220 Email: MGHSpiritualCare@partners.org
Social Services provide counseling and assist with finding financial and social support for patients and their families. To contact a social worker, please call 617-726-2643.
Bereavement support groups are also available for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. For more information, contact Social Services at 617-726-2643.
For additional resources or questions regarding final arrangements, please call the Office of Decedent Affairs at 617-643-7550.