Who Should I Call When a Death Occurs?

Sponsored By: McAlister-Smith Funeral & Cremation


Even when someone is terminally ill, a death is never expected. Knowing in advance who to call when the death occurs can dramatically help ease the anxiety.

Todd Griffin, Licensed Funeral Director and General Manager of McAlister-Smith Funeral & Cremation, says the very first call is to notify the healthcare team that someone has died. If the person dies at home, the family member will make the first call to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the county coroner or the hospice company, if they have been under hospice care. If the death occurs in a healthcare facility, the staff in the facility will make the initial phone calls.

The second call should be to the funeral home to make the funeral arrangements. At McAlister-Smith, a licensed funeral director is always on call and available to speak to someone 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. 

“Whether it’s 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, a weekend or a holiday, we go as soon as permission is granted, sending two funeral staff to the home or facility to bring the person into care,” Griffin says.

Talking through the plans

During this same time, the funeral director has an initial phone call with the family. No one is ever prepared for this day, and family members may not know immediately what kind of service they want to have. However, Griffin says he can ask a few pointed questions, guiding the family to make those decisions.

“By the time I get off of the phone with them, we’ve planned the entire service,” Griffin says. “They know more than they think they do. Talking with the funeral professional as soon as possible brings comfort to them and they see they are further ahead than they may have realized and then they don’t feel quite as overwhelmed.”

Also during that call, Griffin lets the family members know what documents and information they need to bring to the meeting at the funeral home. For example, if the deceased person was former military, they would need the military service discharge papers. It’s also necessary to have other vital information, including parents’ names and the person’s mother’s maiden name.

“It’s important to speak with a funeral director as quickly as possible – even on the phone – so someone can help them think through what they need to bring in and what questions they need to ask,” Griffin says.

Out-of-state burials

With so many people moving to the Charleston area, it’s not uncommon for people to pass away here but want to be buried in their home state, alongside a previously deceased spouse or in a family burial plot.

At McAlister-Smith, the funeral director can make all the arrangements for transporting the loved one to another state. Depending on the distance, it will either be via commercial airline or vehicle. Griffin says they coordinate all the details with the preferred funeral home in the person’s home state.

Griffin says he also reminds people that it’s perfectly fine to have two services. He can coordinate a service here in Charleston for local friends and family and then work with another funeral home to plan a second service. “It’s OK to do it twice,” he says. “There’s no rush.”

The same process works in reverse, should a person pass away in another state but want to be buried in the Charleston area. McAlister-Smith is licensed to handle services anywhere in South Carolina, not just the Charleston area.

Griffin recognizes this is often a brand new experience for families, but it’s not new for the team at McAlister-Smith.

“Even if a family hasn’t planned ahead, we’ve already made a plan,” he says. “We never let anything surprise us.”

McAlister-Smith Funeral & Cremation has been a local and trusted name for funeral and cremation services for more than 130 years. The team at McAlister-Smith has the expertise and resources to help you through every step of planning a personalized service for your loved one.

Visit one of their four convenient locations in Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, James Island and Goose Creek to see what a modern funeral home can provide.

For more information about services and resources, go to McAlister-Smith.com or call (843) 722-8371.

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