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How To Get a Death Certificate

When a loved one passes, it may feel like there is an endless array of legal decisions to be made and paperwork to complete. At this emotional time, it can be difficult to prioritize which tasks need to be handled immediately and which can come after the funeral and memorial services. We hope to be a help with one of the most critical first steps: below is our guide for how to get a death certificate in the days following a loved one’s demise.   

How Do I Get a Death Certificate?

Following the death of a loved one, their passing must be registered at the state or local vital records bureau within 3 to 10 days, depending on the state. Once the official records are created, the vital records office can issue certified copies of the death certificate, bearing the official registrar’s stamp and seal.  

Who Can Prepare and File the Death Certificate?

The person responsible for handling the deceased’s remains will fill out and file the death certificate with the appropriate vital records office. Typically, this is the funeral home or cremation organization and is included in their costs. They will gather all of the necessary information about the deceased to prepare the paperwork. While the details required on the death certificate vary among the states, they often include:

  • Full name,
  • address,
  • marital status,
  • surviving spouse’s name,
  • father’s name,
  • mother’s name before marriage,
  • education,
  • Social Security number,
  • veteran’s claim or discharge number, and
  • date and time of death, place of death, and the cause of death.

The death certificate must be signed by an attending doctor, medical examiner, or corner after being prepared. 

How Can I Get a Death Certificate When Caring for a Body at Home or Planning a DIY Funeral?

While it isn’t common in modern American culture to care for the body of a loved one at home after death, those who have chosen this step have found it profoundly therapeutic, as it can help facilitate the grieving process. All states allow for at-home care until the burial or cremation, as well as family-directed funerals and memorial services. The National Home Funeral Alliance and the Funeral Consumers Alliance are supportive of families wishing to care for their loved ones after death and provide excellent guides to each state’s legal requirements, which you can find here.

DIY funerals and memorials are becoming increasingly common, as families opt for simple, less expensive funerals at locations cherished by the deceased. Rather than conventional services, loved ones gather to honor the departed in a style of their own design. You can find more information about planning a “Do-It-Yourself” funeral here

Many states do allow a designated family member to prepare the death certificate and take responsibility for its filing. However, as the National Home Funeral Alliance indicates, some states require that a funeral director be hired to file the death certificate, even for DIY funerals or at-home care situations. Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York are among the states that require the hiring of a funeral director to file the death certificate – many of those states also require a funeral director to supervise the disposition of the body.  

If you are in a state that does not require a funeral director to complete the preparation and filing of the death certificate, contact your local Office of Vital Statistics to get a blank copy or access their electronic system. It is critical that you ask what your requirements and time restrictions are before proceeding with burial or cremation.

For example, in California, you must prepare and file the death certificate within 8 calendar days and before the body is buried or cremated. The death certificate must be signed within 15 hours by the doctor who last attended to the departed, and the physician must indicate the cause of death, as well as the date and time of death.

While California allows for 8 days, other states have tighter restrictions. The State of Washington requires that the finalized death certificate be filed with the local registrar within 3 days after death, while South Carolina requires filing within 5 days. Ohio uses an electronic registration system, but they will provide you with a death certificate worksheet, and guidance is available through the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Once the medical provider has reviewed the death certificate form, they must provide the details of death, sign the form, and return it to you within 48 hours.

How Many Copies of the Death Certificate are Required?

Whether you are working with a funeral director, mortuary, or completing the filing yourself, you should request 10-12 copies of the certified death certificate as soon as possible. As you close accounts or claim benefits or physical property that belong to the departed, you will be required to provide the certified document. This includes Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, life insurance payments, payable on death investment accounts, and numerous other situations.

How Do I Get a Copy of a Death Certificate Later?

If only a few months have passed since your loved one’s death, you should be able to request additional death certificates from the local county office. If a year or longer has passed, you should also be able to request a copy through your state’s Office of Vital Statistics.

How Much Does a Copy of a Death Certificate Cost?

The cost of obtaining a death certificate differs from state to state. Typically, the cost runs from $10 to $30 per copy. If you contact your Office of Vital Statistics online, you will see the price next to the link for each type of certificate that the office provides.

Who Can Get a Copy of a Death Certificate?

Death registrations are public records. Anyone can apply for an informational (aka non-certified) copy of a death certificate. They are frequently requested for genealogy research or personal records and cannot be used for claims against the estate. Certified copies bearing the official registrar’s stamp and seal are usually only available to estate executors, immediate family, or financial stakeholders. They are required for all financial matters relating to the estate of the deceased, including the closing of bank accounts, inheritance issues and the processing of survivor benefits. Informational copies of the death certificate typically take about a month to process; however, delays due to the coronavirus should be expected. 

How Long Will it Take to Receive a Certified Death Certificate?

The amount of time it takes to process the first certified death certificate depends on your county or state’s systems, as well as any delays they might be facing due to the coronavirus. Even when working with a funeral home, it can take up to 2-3 weeks to receive the certified copies from the county and slightly longer from the state. Assume that it will be at least 10 days before it is available, unless you pay for expedited service.

Regulations do vary between jurisdictions. You should consult your local funeral professional for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Do you have other questions? Titan Casket is here to help. We are your friend in the funeral business and your ally in getting the funeral you want at a fair price. Ask us for what you need, and we’ll help you get it at the lowest cost. Contact us in the chat window or here to get started.

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