How To Get A Death Certificate

A death certificate is an official, government-issued document that declares the date and time, location, and cause of death. A death certificate is legally required to be issued when a death occurs, and will be necessary as you make funeral arrangements and take care of personal, financial, and legal business on behalf of the person who died and his or her estate.

Who completes a death certificate

A death certificate is jointly completed by two parties: A medical certifier (a physician, coroner, or medical examiner), who will validate the death (identify cause and time of death and the identity of the deceased) and a licensed funeral director, who will confirm that the body was properly handled. The funeral director will then file the death certificate with the county health department.

Timeline for filing the death certificate

Though the rules vary from state to state, in many states funeral directors must file the death certificate with the county health department within 72 hours of the death. Upon filling of the death certificate, a burial permit will be issued. A body cannot be buried in the United States without a burial permit.

Information required for completion of the death certificate

A death certificate contains personal information about the person who died that someone close to or knowledgeable about the deceased must provide. This information includes:

  • Full name
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Last address
  • Whether the deceased served in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Marital status at time of death
  • If married, surviving spouse's maiden name
  • Father's name
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Highest level of education
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Occupation and type of business/industry in which the deceased worked

Obtaining copies of a death certificate

You will likely want to request multiple copies of the death certificate, as you’ll need it for making arrangements for the disposition of remains (burial or cremation) and for managing post-funeral estate and administrative affairs. Many people find that ten copies of the death certificate are sufficient.

Your funeral home can request copies of the death certificate for you, or you can request them directly from the state in which they were filed. If you're interested in ordering copies of the death certificate yourself, use our resource State-by-State Death Certificate Ordering Information to find out how to order certified death certificates in your state.

In some cases, mostly depending on the state you're in, you may be able to obtain a death certificate through VitalChek, a website that handles vital records for many government agencies.

In rare cases, the state you are requesting death certificates from may not be able to find the record you are requesting. In the event that the state cannot locate the record you are requesting, they will provide you with a Certificate of Failure to Find, also called a Certificate of No Public Record or a No Record Statement. This will serve as evidence that you attempted to retrieve the death certificate, and you should be able to do most of your business with this document. Be aware that this situation is usually limited to death certificates registered with the state over 50 years ago, and will most likely not be an issue if the death certificate you are requesting is for a recent death.

To order copies of a death certificate online, use our resource Guide: Ordering Certified Copies of a Death Certificate.

To learn how to order certified death certificates from your local health department, use our resource State-by-State Death Certificate Ordering Information.

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