EstatesLegalProbateWhy Do You Need a Death Certificate?

September 5, 2019Obitia

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A death certificate is a legal document issued by the government, which declares the cause, location and time of death, as well as personal information about the deceased individual. It is usually completed jointly by either a physician, medical examiner or coroner, and the funeral director, and it will need to be formally registered with the state vital records division.

The death certificate will be necessary for planning the funeral, and if you are the executor of the estate, it will be required for a number of matters including closing and transferring accounts, as well as claiming life insurance and/or pension benefits.

Below you will find information on how to obtain a death certificate, costs to expect, as well as the type of information that will be needed to complete the certificate.


Obtaining a Certified Death Certificate

Upon the death of a loved one, a death certificate is required by law to legally certify their end of life. Completing and filing a complete death certificate to your local or state vital records office or health department is an important step in handling the deceased’s final affairs.


How to Obtain a Death Certificate 

The procedure to compile, prepare, and file a death certificate is simple but requires detailed information from important documents and timely submission, usually within three (72 hours) to ten days depending on state law.

The certificate is usually prepared by the funeral home or a medical professional, like a coroner or certified physician, who confirms the time and place of death. The funeral director will then submit it to the state or county vital records office.

Generally, you can obtain a copy of the death certificate in one of three ways. First, ask the funeral director or cremation provider for an official state or local death certificate.  They will be able to provide you and your family with the required materials and often times can file them on your behalf with the relevant government agency. If you do not have services arranged at the time of death, you can also reach out to your state or local health department or vital records office. Often times, you are able to download and print official forms from your home computer. Lastly, you can contact a third-party service like a law office or private vital records provider.


Information Needed to Complete a Death Certificate

The information required varies from state to state, but generally includes the following:

·      Full Legal Name

·      Address

·      Birth date and birthplace (check a birth certificate, if available)

·      Father’s name and birthplace

·      Mother’s name and birthplace

·      Social Security Number, either partial or full

·      If applicable, Veteran’s discharge or claim number

·      Education

·      Marital status and name of survivors

·      Date, place, and time of death

·      Cause of death

·      Signatures of doctors, coroner, medical examiner, or state/local government seal of approval

The information compiled and required does not only legally certify death, but it is also compiled for official death records for local, state, and federal archives.


Copies and Costs

Obtaining additional copies of the completed death certificate is advised, as they will be required for the deceased’s various assets, bank accounts, life insurance policies, Social Security benefits, retirement accounts, et cetera. Not everyone can obtain a copy of the death certificate, and is limited to the following individuals:

  • Immediate family: spouse, parent, child, sibling
  • Funeral director
  • Government agency

Each separate copy of a death certificate costs around $10.00 to $15.00 USD. It is advised to request at least ten copies from the funeral home or you can also request copies through your state’s vital records office or via a third party. If you are paying for the death certificates out of pocket, you may be eligible for reimbursement from the estate. Ask the personal representative or executor of the estate about being reimbursed for the death certificates if you are not appointed to that position.



Filing and obtaining copies of your loved one’s death certificate is an important first step (see our Funeral Planning Checklist). They are required for not only planning a funeral but will be used to prove the death of your loved one to close accounts and wrap up their estate. Death certificates are especially important to the individual who is appointed to wrap up your loved one’s estate, so if that is not you make sure to coordinate with that individual so you don’t end up ordering too many or too few.


The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, accounting or tax advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.




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