How to Acquire a Death Certificate

Two Methods:Acquiring a Death Certificate at the Time of DeathAcquiring Copies of a Death Certificate at a Later Time

A death certificate is an official document that records the date and circumstances of a person's death. Death certificates are prepared by the funeral home or organization handling the person's remains, then filed with the state. Although it may be the last thing you are thinking about when a loved one passes, a properly filed death certificate is a necessity. You will need a standard, certified death certificate for many reasons: to administer their estate, to gain access to a family member’s credit history, or to access insurance proceeds.

Method 1
Acquiring a Death Certificate at the Time of Death

  1. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 1
    Contact the Preparer. The person at the funeral home or cremation facility who is handling the deceased's remains is responsible for filling out the death certificate, having it signed by a coroner, doctor or medical examiner, and then filing it with the state.
    • If you are too emotional to call, ask a family friend or acquaintance to call for you.
  2. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 2
    Provide the person preparing the certificate with the correct information. Though you will be focused mostly on grieving in the aftermath of a loved one's death, someone must nevertheless call the preparer and provide the following information:[1]
    • Full name and address
    • Birth date and birthplace
    • The name and birthplace of father and mother
    • Complete or partial Social Security number
    • Veteran’s discharge or claim number
    • Education
    • Marital status and name of surviving spouse, if there was one
    • The cause of death, as well as the date, place, and time of death
  3. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 3
    Confirm the certificate is filed. Most states specify that the death certificate must be completed and filed within ten days of a person's death. The funeral home or cremation organization is responsible for filing the certificate, but you can ask them to make sure it's filed in time.
  4. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 4
    Request certified copies from the funeral home or mortuary. Ask for 10 or more copies, since you will need them in order to claim property or benefits that were in the deceased person's name.[2]
    • You will need an authorized, "certified" death certificate to claim insurance benefits or settle an estate. An "informational," or uncertified, death certificate is not adequate for legal purposes.[3]
    • The death certificate which is sufficient to prove legal identity will be called different things in different states. In most states, this death certificate, sufficient for legal purposes such as claiming life insurance benefits, is called the “certified” death certificate. California, however, calls both its “authorized” and informational death certificates “certified.” Californians need the “authorized” certificate for legal purposes. To make sure you have the right death certificate, tell the preparer that you need it for legal reasons, such as closing an estate.
    • On average, each copy will cost around $15.

Method 2
Acquiring Copies of a Death Certificate at a Later Time

  1. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 5
    Find the appropriate vital records office. Locate the city and state where the death occurred.
    • States are responsible for maintaining vital records of events that happened in their state. If someone died in Virginia but lived in New York, the death certificate will be filed in the Virginia county where the death happened.
    • This might feel difficult or frustrating, especially if you aren't sure where the death occurred. To begin with, contact other friends or relatives to ask if they know.
    • You may also search online. Websites such as and Records Project offer "free" search engines. But you have to pay a fee to find the actual city where the death occurred.
    • You may also simply want to type the loved one's name into a search engine. His or her death may have been reported in the obituaries of a local newspaper.
  2. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 6
    Contact the county or state vital records office. You can find it online by searching for your state and the words "vital records," or go to the office in person to talk to a clerk.
    • To find out where to get vital records in your state, visit this website.
    • If the death occurred outside of the country, you should contact the Department of State. The State Department prepares a Report of Death, which may be used in insurance proceedings and is based on the foreign certificate of death.[4] Call 1-202-485-8300.
  3. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 7
    Determine whether your state's records are public or closed. Some states don't allow the public to obtain copies of vital records. In closed-record states, you may gain access to the death certificate if you are the following:
    • Spouse or immediate family member (such as a child, sibling, or parent)
    • Attorney representing an estate, family members, or persons with a legal interest
    • Private investigator
    • Genealogical researcher
    • Many states appear to be moving toward a “closed” system. For example, Minnesota limits access to those who can show a “tangible interest,” which is defined as either a close familial or financial relationship (e.g., a trustee). Minnesota limits access to death records to prevent identify theft and fraud.[5] To access records in closed states, you will have to show identification and maybe submit a sworn statement that you are eligible.
    • If your state has a “closed” system and you do not qualify as someone with sufficient interest to obtain a certified copy, then you can only get an “informational” copy. The information copy will have private information, such as Social Security numbers and signatures, redacted.[6]
  4. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 8
    Gather proof of relationship or legal interest. This might include proof that you were related to the deceased using a birth or marriage certificate. If you're an attorney, you'll need copies of titles, court orders, or other documents showing the person you're representing has legal interest in the deceased.
  5. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 9
    Order the death certificate. You can typically order the death certificate in one of three ways: online, by letter, or by stopping into the Vital Records office. Each state handles this differently. For example, some states may allow you to order death certificates from the state agency, whereas others may direct you to the county or city where the records are kept.
    • You can order online at the VitalChek website, which partners with many states. Click on “Death Certificate” on the left, and then “Start Your Order.” After selecting the state where the person died, you will be prompted for information, such as date of death, city where the death occurred, and your reason for ordering the certificate.
    • Request by letter. In the letter, include the name of the deceased, the date and city or town where the death occurred, your relationship to the deceased, and a daytime telephone number.[7] Include a photocopy of your photo ID and a long, self-addressed stamped envelope.[8]
    • Order in person. You can stop into the office where the death certificate is held and order in person. You may be able to get the record at a state-level office,[9] or you may have to go to the city or county where the record is held.[10] Be sure to call the state Vital Records office ahead of time to clarify which office you should go to.
  6. Image titled Acquire a Death Certificate Step 10
    Pay for the death certificate. Fees vary widely by state, but expect to pay around $40.
    • Verify the current fee schedule by calling the state’s vital records office.

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Categories: Legal Matters