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Timeline for Autopsies
An autopsy is going to make funeral planning more complex. Find out how long an autopsy takes and how it could affect the timeline for funeral services.
Timeline for Autopsies
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There is a typical progression of events after a death, but a small percentage of families have to deal with the added stress of an autopsy. An autopsy is required in some situations, basically anytime the cause of a death is unknown or questionable. 

One of the first things that families worry about is how an autopsy will affect funeral services. It helps to have a better idea of the timeline for autopsies so that you can plan accordingly. With that in mind, the rundown below is an overview with rough estimates for how long an autopsy takes and how it could affect the timeline for funeral services.

How Long Before an Autopsy is Performed

The first thing to consider is how long it will take the medical examiner to initiate the autopsy process. Typically, the medical examiner’s office is going to handle autopsies in an expedited manner. 

Within 12-24 hours of receiving the body the medical examiner will start by examining the person’s medical records and information regarding the death. Quite often this is all that’s needed for the medical examiner to determine how a person died. If that’s the case the medical examiner will move on to creating their autopsy report and updating the death certificate with the cause of death. In these instances, there isn’t much of a delay in arranging funeral services.

The Time It Takes to Perform an Autopsy

If the medical examiner isn’t able to determine the cause of death using medical records, evidence and a visual physical exam they’ll move on to performing an autopsy. Although an autopsy is involved and thorough, they don’t usually take too long to complete. 

During an autopsy the medical examiner examines the body externally and internally. They are looking for injuries, skin abrasion and trauma of any kind. It may require removing organs entirely. The medical examiner may also need to draw blood, take tissue samples and do biopsies for further analysis. In total, an autopsy usually takes 1-4 hours from start to finish. 

Once the autopsy is complete the medical examiner’s office will contact the funeral home to arrange the transport of the body. Usually the body is released within 48 hours of the death. In most instances, an autopsy shouldn’t delay funeral services since you can begin the arrangements while waiting for the medical examiner to do their work. 

Time Needed for Toxicology Reports and Other Tests

The most time-consuming part of many autopsies is waiting on toxicology reports and other test results. These may be necessary to determine the cause of death and complete the autopsy report. Unfortunately, samples often need to be sent off to a lab to be processed, which can take days, weeks or even months. 

Time for Analysis and Reporting

Finally, the medical examiner needs to put all of the puzzle pieces together. They’ll analyze all of the evidence, information and data that they’ve gathered through various means to determine the cause and manner of death. The time it takes to analyze everything varies depending on the amount of information and how much digging the medical examiner has to do. 

Here again, the goal is to complete the autopsy analysis and reporting soon after all of the information is in hand. The medical examiner should have the autopsy report done within a day of completing the analysis. 

All said and done, it’s quite common for autopsy reports to take 4-6 months to complete. Of course, this timeline certainly doesn’t dictate the funeral services or cremation, but it may impact the timing of a memorial service. The family may want to wait to get the results of the autopsy report before making plans.

Once the autopsy is complete you should be informed and can receive a copy of the autopsy report. It’s important to know that in many states, like Texas and California, autopsy reports are public records that others can request to see. 


If you are waiting on an autopsy to be performed you can still make progress planning funeral services. Direct Cremate can work directly with the medical examiner’s office to arrange transport in advance and start the documentation that’s necessary for a cremation. Get personal assistance by calling or texting any hour of the day.

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