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Everything you Need to Know about Death Certificates

death certificate

Information on how we can secure a death certificate for our deceased loved ones rarely gets attention until the time comes when we have to do it. If you want to prepare for this eventuality, this is an excellent guide for you. It’s better to be educated about the proper documentation, especially when you are dealing with individual cases like a death that occurred out of the country.

This certification comes from the office of the State, dealing with vital statistics and will be issued wherever the death occurred. The registrar of the office will provide an acknowledgement of the death, its cause and specific location.

Death certificates are most often requested and issued for legal purposes such as social security claims, life insurance, estate settlements, medical benefits and arranging for a funeral service.

Read on to learn about the process and handle the records on the death of a loved one.

Death Certificate – What is it?

A death certificate is a legal document granted and released by the state upon the death of an individual. It includes details about the person’s death – the time, location and the cause, as well as some other pertinent information. This document is filed within the State where the death occurred, and the vital statistics division of the State will keep it as a permanent record.

This certification is validated and confirmed by an official stamp either from the vital statistics state office, other agencies that keep essential records or even government-authorized third-party entities. It is a crucial lawful proof of a person’s death. It will be valuable in various legal transactions such as the transfer of land titles, social security benefits for survivors, closure of investments and bank accounts, and all types of insurance claims (burial, final expense, and life).

Typically, the first who requests for this document is the funeral company that arranges the memorial service since it’s part of the requirements in taking care of the personal affairs of the dead.

Information in the Death Certificate

Personal details included in the issuance of the death certificate are the following: The cause of death, place, time, date of death, social security information, veteran’s discharge number, education, name of spouse, marital status, mother’s unmarried name and birthplace, complete mailing address, birthday/place, and full name.

Filing and Request of the Death Certificate

Filing of the death certificate may either be initiated by the funeral company, the crematory or the police. It involves collecting all the necessary information mentioned above that will be reflected in the document. You also need to affix the signatures of the medical examiner or coroner, doctor and the paramedic. This step must be completed in 3-10 days after the death and on the State where it occurred.

Anyone can request a death certificate for information purposes. However, if you need a certified copy, only those who are related to the deceased by blood or marriage (immediate family), the estate executor, or those who have proof of interest on the estate can request for it (valid for most states).

The following people are the only ones authorized to request the issuance of a death certificate:

  • The person who gave the information reflected on the death certificate
  • Estate executor
  • A legal representative for the family
  • Grandchildren
  • Daughter or Son
  • Wife or Husband
  • Brother or Sister
  • Mother or Father of the deceased person

The Process of Securing a Death Certificate

You can choose to secure your death certificate certified copies by requesting for it yourself, getting it from the funeral home, or a third-party office. However, the quickest way is to get it from the funeral home. Ten death certificate copies are generally sufficient to complete all the necessary documentation for the deceased. Make sure that you obtain enough copies for all legal purposes that will require a copy of the death certificate. This step includes Social Security, Veteran’s Benefits, POD accounts, Insurance claims (life and burial), as well as other benefits that you cannot acquire without this legal document.

Where you can obtain the death certificate will depend on when you requested for it since the time of the passing. If you tried to get one after the cremation or burial or even up to a month after, you can go directly to the Local Health Department or County Recorder’s Office in the State where the death occurred. It’s only after several months when the State will have a copy on file.

Similarly, the Vital Records Office of the State will have a record. Before your visit, you can go to the online site of the Centers for Disease Control and locate the Vital Records Office of your State to know their contact details and the requirements for obtaining copies of the death certificate. There cost typically is between $10-$25 per print, which may vary from State to State. If you choose to request additional copies, it gets cheaper. Also, if you are the state executor and you get multiple copies on your account, the estate can later reimburse you for it.

Getting the Death Certificate in Person

The first thing that you need to do is to visit the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and locate the State where the person died. Prepare a copy of a valid ID (government-issued) with photo and your payment of $15-$25 depending on the State. Money Orders or Checks payable to the State Board of Health or State Vital Statistics Office can be made. If you wish to obtain more copies, the cost goes down to $6 a piece.

The fees are non-refundable, and cash is not accepted as a mode of payment, due to the difficulty of issuing a refund for payments that could be missing in transit. Fees change from time to time, so it’s best to contact the State for verification before making payments.

The Information Required to Request a Death Certificate are the Following:

From the Person Who is Making the Request:

  • Mailing address
  • Contact numbers
  • Relationship to the deceased
  • The purpose of the request

From the Deceased Person in the Death Certificate:

  • Social Security Number
  • Spouse’s Name
  • Birthplace and Place of Death (city, county, State and hospital)
  • Date of death (month, day, year)
  • Birthdate (month, day, year)
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Father’s name
  • Gender
  • Complete name

Getting a Death Certificate Through the Mail or Fax

If you wish to request the death certificate via mail or fax, you can send a letter to the Vital Statistics Office. There are guidelines on how you can write a message that will better facilitate your request.

First, you have to know that most state and county offices are understaffed so you should expect to be waiting for a while before they fulfill your application. To help them, though, you must provide an envelope that has your return address. Also, make sure that you give them all the necessary information to expedite the process such as complete names (including all that may have been used like aliases, maiden name, married names, and alternative spellings), addresses, and accurate dates.

If you are unsure about the exact dates, you can include a date range (in years) that the office can use to conduct their search. This step will likely cost you extra. But it’s better if you can obtain a more precise date from likely sources.

It will help you to type up your letter to avoid confusion about some handwriting. Also, refrain from providing unclear familial relationships. Try to issue one request at a time and draft a message that is short but concise.

By mail, you can also get the mail-in application by downloading it onto your device. You can then send the filled-out application form and fees to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The state location will depend on the place of death.

By fax, you do the same thing but send your fulfilled application form to the Vital Statistics Office via fax.

Getting the Death Certificate Online

Some companies can process your request for a death certificate online, such as the SearchQuarry who keeps online death records. However, the copies that they can provide you will not act as official records. Going directly to the Local Health Department or the Vital Statistics Office is still the best way to obtain certified copies where you can wait while they process your application.

If for whatever reason, there is no way for you to request by other means, VitalCheck can help you secure your vital records quickly being a government authorized third-party online provider.

For Deaths that Happened Abroad

In cases where a United States citizen dies while based outside of the country, the death will be reported to the consular office, where the death report will be issued officially. The family can then request the death certificate from the Department of State. To do this, the office will require you to submit a request, duly notarized and with a valid ID of the person making the request attached to it. The letter of application may be sent to:

Department of State
Passport Vital Records Section
44132 Mercure Cir.
PO Box 1213
Sterling, VA 20166-1213

Every copy will cost $50, and this is subject to changes depending on the mandate of the State. If you are filing for a death which occurred before 1975, you can make a direct request from Washington DC 20408 in the branch of Diplomatic Records of the National Archives and Records Service.

If you want to request for death certificates for somebody who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, as well as the Department of Defense civilian employees, you can file with the National Personnel Records Center in the address below:

Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Ave.
St Louis, Missouri 63132-5100

The Department of State does not keep death records of military men who have served the United States.

The only ones who are authorized to request for a CRDA, or Consular Report of Death Abroad, are the family members of the deceased such as the mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, daughter or son, grandchildren, and the estate executor or legal representative.

Step by Step Process

  1. Give the embassy of the US Consulate Office closest to you a call. This place is the office based in the country where the death happened. The contact details of these offices are available in public libraries or from the Foreign Consular Offices of the US Department of State Publication 7846. Phone numbers and addresses will be published.
  2. If the foreign consulate is not able to help you, you can choose to send your request by letter to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services in the US Department of State in Washington DC 20520-4818.
  3. Your notarized request must be submitted with the complete information:
    • Requesting person’s signature
    • Return address and contact details
    • Place of death
    • Date of death (year, month, day)
    • Complete name of the departed
  4. Attach a copy of your government-issued ID showing your signature and photo.
  5. Pay the $50 fee via money order or check payable to US Department of State. If you wish to request for more copies, you must pay $50 apiece. Affix your complete mailing address on the back of your check. Cash payments are discouraged because of the reality of lost money in the mail.
  6. Send your payment, notarized request and copy of valid ID to:
    US Department of State
    Passport Vital Records Section
    44132 Mercure Cir.
    PO Box 1213
    Sterling, VA 20166-1213
  7. You may call 202-485-8300 to follow up on your request.

To avoid any form of delay in the processing of your application, make sure that you follow the step by step process above. If you fail to have your request notarized or include a copy of your valid ID, then the office cannot push through with your application until you can provide the exact requirements.

If there is a sense of urgency in your request, you can choose to add $16.48 via check or money order to pay for a USPS expedited delivery.

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