Once a person passes away, the party in charge of their remains will complete a death certificate. This might be a funeral home or the entity that handles the body’s cremation. The process of registering the death must take place within a few days or possibly a week in some states. The vital records office at which the death is registered will then supply copies of the death certificate to family members, who may need it for various legal matters.
To complete the certificate, family members will need to provide certain personal information about the deceased person. This typically includes their name and address, their birth date and birthplace, each parent’s name and birthplace, and the date, place, time, and cause of their death. A death certificate also may provide information about the decedent’s marital status, educational status, and access to benefits, such as Social Security or military benefits. It will require the signature of a medical professional or a coroner before it can be finalized.
Vital Records Offices
The vital records offices in the county and state where the death occurred (not necessarily where the decedent lived) will hold copies of death certificates. You can go to the official website of the county and search for the registrar or clerk to find its vital records office. If you need to find the vital records office in your state, you can refer to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists state vital records offices.
Getting a Copy of a Death Certificate
In the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, you can get a copy of their death certificate from the funeral home or other entity handling their body. You may need as many as 10 copies to handle the decedent’s affairs if this is your responsibility. For example, you will need a death certificate to claim Social Security or military benefits, as well as life insurance proceeds or funds in certain accounts. You also will need a death certificate to get a permit to bury or cremate your loved one’s remains.
Cause of Death
Make sure that the death certificate lists the cause of death if an insurance benefit is contingent on how the decedent died.
If you need a death certificate some time after your loved one has passed away, you should be able to get it from a vital records office. You can contact the vital records office at either the county or the state level, although the county office may be more likely to have a death certificate for a death that occurred relatively recently. There will be a nominal fee for copies of a death certificate obtained through a vital records office. However, you may be able to get reimbursed for the costs through your loved one’s estate if you are their executor.
This discussion focuses on certified copies of a death certificate, which are required for legal matters involving the decedent. If you simply want a death certificate for your personal records, you likely can receive an informational copy of the certificate. This will not have an official stamp but can be easier to obtain. Anyone can receive an informational copy; you do not need to be a family member.