How to Get a Death Certificate

by Cameron Huddleston

How to Get a Death Certificate

Contents

    Losing a loved one can be incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, it can be even more challenging if you’re the one who has to settle your loved one’s estate, close accounts or tie up any financial loose ends. That’s because you might have a lengthy to-do list to tackle while you’re grieving, which may include helping to sort out your loved one's financial affairs.

    One of the first things you’ll likely need to do is get certified copies of your loved one’s death certificate. Here’s what you need to know about the process and why you will need this document.

    What is a death certificate?

    A death certificate is a government-issued legal document that provides proof of death. Typically, it’s prepared by a funeral director, who must gather information about the person who died and get certification of the cause of death from a physician, coroner or medical examiner. The funeral director then files the death certificate with the county or state vital records office. State laws usually require that a death certificate be filed within two to 10 days after a death. 

    A death certificate includes personal information about the deceased and the cause of death. Usually, it includes the following details:

    • Full name of the deceased
    • Deceased’s race, sex, education level, occupation
    • Social Security number
    • Date and place of birth
    • Address
    • Parents’ names
    • Date, place and time of death
    • Method of disposition (burial, cremation, etc.)
    • Cause of death

    [ Keep Reading: What to Do When a Parent Dies ]

    Why you need copies of a death certificate

    A certified copy of the death certificate will be necessary to prove your loved one’s death for a variety of financial and legal transactions. Key reasons you’ll need certified copies include the following:

    • To file a claim for life insurance benefits
    • To begin probate proceedings to settle the estate
    • To claim pension benefits
    • To close or transfer ownership of the deceased’s financial accounts
    • To transfer ownership of the deceased’s property
    • To stop benefit payments your loved one received from the Social Security Administration, Medicare or Medicaid and any other government agencies or to claim benefits you’re entitled to as a survivor

    You’ll likely need several certified copies if you are the executor of your loved one’s estate or are overseeing his or her financial affairs. If you just need a death certificate for informational rather than legal use, you can get an uncertified copy.

    Who can order copies of a death certificate?

    The rules regarding who can apply for a death certificate vary from state to state. Some states allow only immediate family members—such as a spouse, parent, sibling or child—to get certified copies. Others allow extended family members, ex-spouses, legal representatives of the deceased’s estate and individuals who can demonstrate a financial interest in the deceased’s estate to apply for a death certificate. Your state’s office of vital statistics should spell out who is eligible to apply for a death certificate on its website.  

    How to get copies

    You have a few options when it comes to getting a death certificate. Typically, you will have to pay a fee for each certified copy you order. However, if you order more than one copy, the additional copies will be discounted. Also, be aware that requests for copies can take several business days or even weeks to process.  

    From the funeral home: You can ask the funeral home or mortuary that is handling the arrangements for your loved one to get certified copies of the death certificate for you.

    From VitalChek: This online service is an official provider of death certificates for hundreds of government agencies throughout the U.S. Simply visit VitalChek.com, select the state where the death certificate was issued and provide the information required by the state to process your request. The cost ranges from $10 to $79.50, depending on the state—plus processing and shipping fees.

    From the local or state vital records office: You can apply for a death certificate from the state where your loved one died. State vital records offices typically offer the option to apply online (usually through VitalChek), by mail, phone or in person. However, many states are not offering walk-in services because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And some states require that applications that are mailed must be signed in front of a notary public. You’ll also need to provide information about the deceased—such as full legal name, sex, date of death, date of birth, county of death and Social Security number.  

    [ Keep Reading: How to Help a Parent With Finances After the Loss of a Spouse ]


    The links below are for the vital records office in each state.

    Alabama: How to get a death certificate in Alabama

    Alaska: How to get a death certificate in Alaska

    Arizona: How to get a death certificate in Arizona

    Arkansas: How to get a death certificate in Arkansas

    California: How to get a death certificate in California

    Colorado: How to get a death certificate in Colorado

    Connecticut: How to get a death certificate in Connecticut

    Delaware: How to get a death certificate in Delaware

    District of Columbia: How to get a death certificate in District of Columbia

    Florida: How to get a death certificate in Florida

    Georgia: How to get a death certificate in Georgia

    Hawaii: How to get a death certificate in Hawaii

    Idaho: How to get a death certificate in Idaho

    Illinois: How to get a death certificate in Illinois

    Indiana: How to get a death certificate in Indiana

    Iowa: How to get a death certificate in Iowa

    Kansas: How to get a death certificate in Kansas

    Kentucky: How to get a death certificate in Kentucky

    Louisiana: How to get a death certificate in Louisiana

    Maine: How to get a death certificate in Maine

    Maryland: How to get a death certificate in Maryland

    Massachusetts: How to get a death certificate in Massachusetts

    Michigan: How to get a death certificate in Michigan

    Minnesota: How to get a death certificate in Minnesota

    Mississippi: How to get a death certificate in Mississippi

    Missouri: How to get a death certificate in Missouri

    Montana: How to get a death certificate in Montana

    Nebraska: How to get a death certificate in Nebraska

    Nevada: How to get a death certificate in Nevada

    New Hampshire: How to get a death certificate in New Hampshire

    New Jersey: How to get a death certificate in New Jersey

    New Mexico: How to get a death certificate in New Mexico

    New York: How to get a death certificate in New York

    North Carolina: How to get a death certificate in North Carolina

    North Dakota: How to get a death certificate in North Dakota

    Ohio: How to get a death certificate in Ohio

    Oklahoma: How to get a death certificate in Oklahoma

    Oregon: How to get a death certificate in Oregon

    Pennsylvania: How to get a death certificate in Pennsylvania

    Rhode Island: How to get a death certificate in Rhode Island

    South Carolina: How to get a death certificate in South Carolina

    South Dakota: How to get a death certificate in South Dakota

    Tennessee: How to get a death certificate in Tennessee

    Texas: How to get a death certificate in Texas

    Utah: How to get a death certificate in Utah

    Vermont: How to get a death certificate in Vermont

    Virginia: How to get a death certificate in Virginia

    Washington: How to get a death certificate in Washington

    West Virginia: How to get a death certificate in West Virginia

    Wisconsin: How to get a death certificate in Wisconsin

    Wyoming: How to get a death certificate in Wyoming

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    Cameron Huddleston

    Cameron Huddleston is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances. You can learn more about her at CameronHuddleston.com or follow her on Twitter @CHLebedinsky.

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