Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Help Me Howard: Death Certificate
Dealing with a death is horribly difficult, and if you have had to go through it, you know you need a final death certificate to deal with insurance policies and sometimes to find out what killed your loved one, but what if the government takes months and months to finish it? Can they do that? Let's find out from Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Ed and Diane had a happy marriage for a simple reason.
Edward Swindell: "That's the secret. It is to make sure it's the right person."
Unfortunately, last July, that right person passed away in her sleep.
Edward Swindell: "She just came home one day, and she was taking a nap, and I went to wake her up for dinner, and she had already gone."
As Ed looks through their wedding album, you can see he misses Diane, and he is convinced their cat does too.
After Diane's sudden death, Ed started putting his life back together. Among the things he needed, her final death certificate.
Edward Swindell: "The death certificate needed to be amended, pending the toxicology report because they have to do a toxicology report in deaths that are not essentially very obvious."
Ed thought the toxicology report would be done in a few weeks, but a few weeks turned into six months, and he still didn't know why his wife laid down to take a nap and never woke up.
Edward Swindell: "It is very frustrating, and the first thing you want to know is how and why and to always be in doubt."
Not only would the report tell him what killed Diane, it would also allow him to get the money from her insurance policy.
Edward Swindell: "It would also pay off all the credit cards that we have, and that would free up my cash flow, so I can take care of any responsibilities with the house and having lost my spouse's income."
Ed called the Broward Medical Examiner's Office every few days but couldn't get the cause of his wife's death.
Edward Swindell: "The coroner's office has been very friendly and very cordial. It is just that it takes so long for a death certificate so you can move on with your life and know how, why."
But can you expect the death certificate you need within six months, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "Legally, the medical examiner cannot be held to a time frame for a cause of death, but if you think it is taking too long, contact the head of the examiner's office. If you aren't satisfied with that, contact (850) 410-8600 and file a complaint, and remember, with budget cuts taking place in every government agency, expect delays to become the rule rather than the exception."
When I spoke to the medical examiner's office, they told me waiting six months for an amended death certificate is on the long side, but complex cases can take a while, that they have to perform a battery of tests and in a case like Diane's, where nothing turns up, they have to do additional tests. A doctor told me, "We are very sympathetic to the families and work very hard to get the cases out as quickly as possible."
Edward Swindell: "This is the final amended copy."
A few days later, Diane's toxicology report was finished, and Ed found out what killed her.
Edward Swindell: "They have it in technical terms, but essentially she died of a heart attack."
With her death certificate, Ed can now file for her insurance, pay some back bills and move on with his life.
Edward Swindell: "I can't explain it. It is like a big load off me. Now I can finally get my finances together, and this will put more money in my pocket every month."
Now, I can't stand excuses, but to defend the Broward Medical Examiner's Office, in July they have had to move the toxicology section out of the office and into a trailer. They are still there. July is also the month Diane passed away. In addition, they have had a surge in cases recently. They don't use that excuse, but they could have.
Death, taxes and trouble you can't tolerate? That's why we are here. Contact us, you don't have to have a certificate to do what we do. Just test us. We won't fail you.
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Medical Examiners Commission
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