Manner of Death: Categories Explained in Simple Terms

Published May 28, 2021
Manner of death

It's not uncommon to ignore all of the formalities that come with death - wills, funerals, autopsies, and so on. In fact, most people only find out how complex and layered the mortuary industry is when they're forced to handle the death of a loved one. Among the many mysteries surrounding this process is determining the manner of death. Take a look at what one's manner of death means for both the deceased and their family.

What Is Manner of Death?

There are a couple of procedural distinctions that have to be determined about the reasons for someone's death in the wake of their passing. Most people conflate manner of death with cause of death, though these two things are separate from one another. Cause of death describes the specific reason for someone's death, such as a heart attack or spinal injury. Manner of death explains the conditions that allowed the cause of death to kill them.

Reasons for Determining Manner of Death

Determining the manner of death was first implemented in the United States in 1910 when it was included as a box to fill out on the US Standard Certificate of Death. Generally, the contemporary purpose behind classifying a person's manner of death is for statistical purposes, and occasionally for legal cases as well. Interestingly, these classifications don't have to be concluded based on a preponderance of evidence, rather that they can be determined based on a coroner's reasonable certainty. This means that manner of death rulings can be adjusted should new or conflicting evidence come to light. The lack of evidentiary conclusions makes the manner of death a less viable legal tool than cause of death.

Five Manners of Death

Currently, there are five different manners of death: Natural, Accident, Suicide, Homicide, and Undetermined. In addition to these distinctions, there is an option to note a manner of death as pending. Normally this is only used when it's taking a while to determine the manner of death and is resolved once the final conclusions have been submitted.


Natural deaths result from natural means such as aging, illnesses, or disease. This label can be particularly difficult for people dealing with the untimely death of a loved one based on disease. Some feel like the natural label to the death of a child with cancer, for instance, is callous. However, it's important to note that this distinction isn't a reflection of the appropriateness of the death, but rather the nature of the death itself.


Accidental deaths are unintentional deaths caused by an injury or poisoning. The important distinction here is that there isn't any actual evidence to prove that there was an intent to harm or cause a fatality. Things like falling down a flight of stairs and breaking your neck or driving off a cliff are examples of accidental deaths.


Suicides differ from accidental deaths in that they result from a deliberate, self-initiated, intent to cause harm or fatality to oneself. These deaths can come from such self-inflicted injuries as poisoning, drug overdose, asphyxiation, and so on.


Homicides are determined to be deaths that have been caused by another person(s). Manner of death rulings that're ruled to be homicides are not criminal classifications in the sense that they don't seek to determine the exact cause of death or the motivations behind the homicide; rather, they just note that the person died because of another person, whomever that person(s) might be.


Undetermined classifications are used when there isn't any single manner of death that a coroner or medical professional feels is more compelling than another. If more evidence comes to light, then this label can be changed on a person's death certificate in the future.

What Does Manner of Death Mean for You?

In all honesty, the manner of death has little meaning for the individual person. Of course, whenever you die, a manner of death will be attributed to you and put onto your death certificate. Similarly, very seldomly does anyone need to worry about the manner of death labeling for a loved one's death certificate as it has no bearing on the funeral procedures and other mortuary situations. However, not every country follows the manner of death system, as it hasn't yet been adopted by the World Health Organization.

It's Best to Be Prepared

Being fully aware of all of the procedures and formalities that follow a person's death can help take some of the weight of the process off of your shoulders, especially if you're the person organizing their final requests. While the manner of death ruling on someone's death certificate isn't as significant as other elements of an autopsy or funeral, it's still reassuring to know what that check mark in the box means ahead of time, so that there's one less question that you have to ask.

Manner of Death: Categories Explained in Simple Terms