Step-by-step: The legal process for Texas

Many more families are now choosing to care for their own loved ones after death our grand- or great-grandparents did. We can do this legally in Texas and the following steps below describe how to do this.

You can legally file these documents yourself, or you can hire a funeral director to only do this part of the process and nothing more.

If it is an EXPECTED DEATH , and the deceased is with hospice, call the hospice organization to notify them. They will usually have a nurse or a doctor come and pronounce the death.If deceased is not with hospice, call the local medical examiner (or coroner) within approximately 2 hours of death (google Medical Examiner for your county). Do NOT call 911 as an expected death is not an emergency.If it is an UNEXPECTED DEATH, call the Sheriff’s Department, or Justice of the Peace of the county where the death occurred. Please note that the state has the right to call in a medical examiner to determine the cause of death. The family can protest to an autopsy due to religious reasons, although this does not mean that protest will be honored.
2. REPORT OF DEATH FORM [vs-115] – When someone dies, you need to file a Report of Death form. If the person is within hospice, then the hospice organization may complete this paperwork. If not, the form can be found at your County Clerk’s office or local Registrar’s office. It depends on the county you live in.Currently, in Austin the document is obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
3. CERTIFICATE OF DEATH [vs-112 sample only] – The Certificate of Death form must be completed within 10 days of a deceased’s burial, or before cremation and submitted to your country’s registrar. The state has passed new legislation which requires counties to switch to Electronic Death Registration so this process is in flux as of May 2015.Collect all the information you need in advance of filing the death certificate. To find what information is needed please click on the above sample, vs-112, and read this document issued by the State of Texas:

  • In Austin, you can go to this office and complete the Certificate of Death online at
    Registrar of Vital Records
    City of Austin – Office of Vital Records
    7201 Levander Loop, Building C
    Austin, Texas 78702
    (512)972-5220  Fax: (512)972-5208
  • This site may answer some of your questions about death certificates
4. TRANSPORT THE BODY TO YOUR HOME – Once you claim the body, you can transport the body to your home and hold a home vigil or memorial service of your choice. You may hire a funeral establishment only for transporting the body, or you may rent a van or SUV, or simply find a friend with suitable transportation.
5. PREPARE, SHELTER AND CARE FOR THE BODY – The law states that the body must be cooled within 24 hours of death. A family can do this themselves using dry ice.

6. SUPPLY A BURIAL OR CREMATION CONTAINER – A container may be hand-made, or you may use only a shroud. Check with the cemetery or crematory to see what their requirements are. A press-board box can be purchased (cost is less than $100 and is usually around $35) from a funeral establishment which can be decorated and personalized. A lovingly prepared casket is as respectful and dignified as a store-bought casket. Additionally it is vibrant and fulfilling for the loved ones doing the decorating.
7. MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR CREMATION OR BURIAL – If cremation is chosen, an additional form, is required. To get this form contact the Medical Examiner in your county. In Travis County a family can obtain the Medical Examiner’s Authority to Cremate form from the Medical Examiner’s Office, 1213 Sabine St., Austin, TX 78701, 512- 854-9599, Fax: 512- 854-9044.

  • Authorization for Cremation and Disposition. This form will be filled out and signed at the crematory and this may vary from site to site since it is specific to each crematory and is not a Texas government document.
8. TRANSPORT BODY TO CEMETERY or CREMATORY – This can be done in a friend’s truck, or you can rent a van for a day from a car rental company for this specific purpose.