What Is a Death Certificate?

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What is a Death Certificate?

When you lose a loved one, you may need a death certificate. Death certificates are certified documents issued by medical practitioners such as coroners, morticians, or doctors. They certify that the person is dead, and list the date, location, and cause of their death. This data is then registered with the local health office or office of vital records to create death indexes for public data and legal reasons. You also need the certified death record for a number of other legal purposes. For example, to close out the deceased person’s affairs and estate.

What Does a Death Certificate Look Like?

Death certificates vary a great deal from state to state, but they are typically embossed or ensigned documents on heavy paper. They contain a signature issued by the residing medical practitioner and a seal from the local government or managing body.

In most states, the death certificate will list the time of death, cause of death, and place of death. This document is signed and certified as witnessed proof that is correct. The issuing funeral home or mortuary keeps a copy on file and issues a copy to the local vital records office.

How Long Does It Take to Receive a Death Record?

In most cases, a funeral home will issue a death certificate within 1-4 days of receiving the body. In cases where the cause of death is unclear, it can take 12 days or more to issue a death record. There might also be a delay if an ongoing investigation is impeding the process. However, the law in some states mandates that a death certificate must be registered and issued within 72 hours of the death.

You will have to provide the funeral home or mortuary with data including the deceased’s:

  • Full legal name
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth (If unknown, request a copy of their birth certificate)
  • Birthplace
  • Last address
  • Armed Forces history
  • Marital status at the time of death
  • If married, surviving spouse’s maiden name
  • Father’s legal name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Highest level of education
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Occupation/industry

Some states require less information. However, if you are uncertain of some of this information, you can order a certified birth certificate at Vital Records Online. That way you will be able to fill in the date of birth, birthplace, and parents’ names.

What Do You Do With a Death Certificate?

Most states ask that family members register the death of their loved one within 5 days of death. In extreme cases, relatives will have to do so immediately upon receipt of the death certificate.

You will also need a death record to:

  • Claim life insurance
  • Claim pension and Medicaid benefits
  • Close accounts
  • Close estate and affairs
  • Obtain a burial or cremation permit

In most cases, you will need at least 10 certified copies of the death certificate. You will also need as many as 10-20 photocopies of a certified death record.

Who Can Request a Copy of a Death Record?

Some states keep death certificates as public health records, and anyone can claim them. In other cases, only a relative or legal representative can ask for a copy of the death record. You may have to prove your identity and relationship to the deceased when requesting copies of death certificates online. You may also be able to submit proof of legal representation instead.

However, public copies of death certificates will likely be truncated to show a general description of death rather than the actual cause. Original death certificates are issued with the full cause of death. On the other hand, public records typically display simple death types including natural causes, accidental, homicide, suicide, and declared in absentia. In addition, if the death certificate is for an infant, it may not be available as public records.

All family members, legal representatives, and government authorities can ask for copies of the full death record at any time.

In many states, you must provide proof of your relationship to the deceased to receive an original certified death certificate. That might include a copy of your birth certificate, a copy of your marriage certificate, a written statement, or court order, depending on your situation. You can receive an original certified death record if you are:

  • Parents
  • Child of legal age
  • Sibling
  • Current spouse
  • Legal representative
  • Guardian with legal custody

How to Order Copies of the Death Certificate Online or by Mail

You can easily order a copy of the death record online or by mail using Vital Records Online. However, you will have to provide the deceased’s:

  • Full legal name
  • Mother’s full maiden name
  • Father’s full maiden name
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Proof of relationship
  • Reason for the death certificate
  • Phone number

In some states, less information is necessary, and you won’t have to prove your relationship. However, you will likely not get a certified copy.

Finally, you can order certified copies of the death certificate at your funeral home. Also, you can use Vital Records Online to order certified copies of the death certificate online. You can order a copy even if it has been years since the deceased passed away.

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