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How to Get a Death Certificate After a Loved One Dies

The most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicates more than 3,400,000 deaths in the United States in 2021. When someone dies, the local government issues a formal document known as a death certificate.

The death certificate provides the date, location, and cause of death. Most state forms follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) U.S. standard certificate of death.

When a loved one passes away, it’s important to get a death certificate. This document is necessary to handle the financial and legal affairs of the deceased person.

Most end-of-life matters require a death certificate. Offering proof that an individual has died allows surviving loved ones to decide. Still, many people do not know they need proof of death or know how to apply for a death certificate.

Following the death of a loved one, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate to do tasks such as making burial or cremation arrangements, transferring bank accounts and assets, and filing insurance claims.

Where to Get a Death Certificate

In most cases, you can get a death certificate through your county’s vital records office. You may also be able to get a certificate of death through the State Department of Health. Vital records offices maintain and issue official documents related to significant life events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.

Typically, the county where the person resided issues the death certificate. However, when people die away from home, the county where the death occurred creates the death certificate.

The CDC’s website has a directory of state vital records offices, which can help you find your local office.

How Do I Find a Death Certificate?

To find a death certificate, you’ll first need to identify the jurisdiction where the death occurred. Next, contact the appropriate local vital records office.

Once you have found the office, you’ll need to request the certificate, either in person or online. To make the request, you’ll need the full name, date of death, and last county of residence of the deceased person. You’ll also need a form of identification to prove that you are a close family member unless enough time has passed to make the death certificate part of the public record.

The office will require a fee, which generally ranges from $5 to $30 per copy. AARP recommends getting five to 10 copies.

Are Death Certificates Public Record?

Certain close family members can access the death certificate soon after the death. Others must wait until it becomes a public record.

In most states, death certificates become public records after a certain period, such as 25 years. Soon after an individual passes away, only close family can obtain the certificate. These individuals include spouses, siblings, and children. Others who may be able to receive a copy of the death certificate include the personal representative or executor of the estate and beneficiaries.

Inquire with your state’s vital records office to determine when death records become public in your state.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate?

Obtaining an official death certificate can take between two and four weeks after requesting it from the vital records office.

In most cases, the process of creating a death certificate begins within 72 hours of the death, when the coroner or medical examiner confers with a spouse or relative to verify information such as the deceased’s Social Security number, birth date, and professional information. The coroner or medical examiner then submits the document to the vital records office.

Some factors can prolong the process. For instance, states with paper filing services tend to take longer. Legal concerns can also cause complications. In cases with ongoing investigations, state governments typically require the certificate to list the cause of death. If the death is still under investigation, officials may need more time to determine the cause.

Contact Your Estate Planning Attorney

Following the death of a loved one, handling legal tasks can be overwhelming. When you work with your estate planning attorney, you can focus on grieving and healing while they help you with tasks such as obtaining a death certificate. Contact our Wichita office at 316-830-5750 to make an appointment and see how Larson, Brown & Ebert, PA can help you.

We Care. We Listen. We Counsel.

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