How to Get a Death Certificate in Iowa: Step-by-Step

Updated

A death certificate is an official government document that states the person’s cause, location, and time of death. So, what are the reasons you might need a death certificate

The quick answer is that there are many reasons! You might need one to settle any financial or legal obligations, such as transferring vehicle, boat, or RV titles. You need one if you’re sending a notification of death letter to credit bureaus, or if you’re managing mortgages and other real estate obligations. 

You’ll also need one to file for an IRS death notification, access pensions, or claim life insurance policies. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

If you’re acquiring death certificates at the time of death of a loved one, the funeral director helping your family will order them for you. 

But what if you need them for other circumstances such as needing proof of the right to remarry, medical history concerns, questions about adoptions, historical references, and any genealogical pursuits or interests that you may have?

No matter what reason you have for needing them, let’s take you through each step on how to get a death certificate in the state of Iowa.

What Do You Need to Get a Death Certificate in Iowa?

Official registration for vital events, such as birth, death, and marriage beginning July 1, 1880, is registered as “Vital Records” in Iowa. To request a copy, you’ll need the following:

  • Person’s name on the record, including marital information
  • Place and date of the event (MM/DD/YYYY)
  • Both parent’s full names and any surnames
  • Any legal actions regarding their birth such as adoption, name changes, and paternity issues
  • A reason for needing this document
  • Your relationship, name, and address
  • A check, money order, or cash in the amount needed for the death certificate and any additional copies

Additional requirements may be needed depending on the process by which you’re ordering a death certificate. 

Steps to Get an Original Death Certificate in Iowa

Certified copies of sealed (private) death certificates are accessible from the State Vital Records office in person or by mail. Online and telephone orders are also possible through an approved third-party vendor but with limited family member access.

In person

You may make walk-in and in person requests at the Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Health Statistics in their Des Moines office location at 321 East 12th Street. Their office is open from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. 

Once you arrive, you’ll need to fill out and sign the records request form in front of vital records staff. You’ll also need to show a valid form of government-issued identification. Here’s what qualifies:

  • State-Issued Driver’s License
  • State-Issued Photo ID
  • US Military ID 
  • US or Foreign Passports

Finally, pay with a check or money order the amount requested. The Vital Records office can generally fulfill requests within two hours on the same day for requests made by 2:00 pm.

By mail

In addition to the steps required above for filing for a death certificate in person, applying by mail requires:

  • A computer and a printer to download and print Iowa’s Application for a Certified copy of a death certificate.
  • Notarization of the application
  • A clear photocopy of your current government-issued photo ID
  • A check or money order with sufficient funds for the copies requested, payable to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
  • Sufficient postage to avoid delay.

Once you’ve acquired the above, put them in an envelope addressed to the following:

Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Office Building, 1st Floor
321 E. 12th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0075

Online

Iowa death certificates are available through an authorized third-party online ordering system called VitalChek. A secure link to their site is available through Iowa’s Vital Records website. 

In addition to information about the deceased, VitalChek also requires you to be a child, spouse, or parent to order a death certificate online. While you may be entitled to the death certificate, there are limitations to those who may order them through VitalChek’s online portal. If you are entitled to order and receive a certified copy of a death certificate, but do not qualify as a spouse, child, or parent, call 866-809-0290

Filling out the request form should take less than 30 minutes if you have the necessary information readily available. You can request to have the certificates mailed to your address by UPS mail for no additional fee. Or you can choose between UPS Air and UPS 2 Day Air for additional fees. Payment can be made online with a debit or credit card.

By phone

Iowa death certificates are also available through VitalChek using their telephone ordering system. You can call them at (866) 809-0290 from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm CST, Monday through Friday, for assistance. Note that VitalChek is closed on nationally observed holidays.

Similar to their online ordering system, only limited relationships with the deceased are qualified to use this system. Additionally, because this is a third-party vendor, you can expect to pay additional fees for the use of their service.

Steps to Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Iowa

Copies of death certificates aren’t certified and won’t work for legal or financial reasons. Still, you may want some copies for personal reasons such as genealogical research or filling out the family bible and family tree. 

If you’re missing some essential information, obtaining a death certificate—even a copy of one—will be time-consuming. Below are a few ways you can gather the information required to complete your search.

Search in-person at the state historical society

Look to the State Historical Society for support in your vital records search. There, you’ll find:

  • Microfilm
  • Cemetery Surveys
  • Census Records
  • Historic Photographs
  • County Records
  • State Archives
  • Diaries and Other Ephemera

The State Historical Society has two locations in Des Moines and Iowa City to conduct your in-person genealogical research.

Online resources

Major genealogical research websites are available to support your death certificate search

efforts, too. Sign up to any of these online databases and create an account with them: 

From there, list the information you have available. Admittedly, you may have to travel down a few rabbit holes to find the correct information. But that’s half the fun of genealogical research.

Photocopies

At the time of death, you typically request between 6 and 10 copies of a certified death certificate to manage the estate and affairs of a deceased loved one. But not all businesses require a certified copy. Plus, the cost of additional certified death certificates can quickly add up.

In those cases, it’s just as easy to make a photocopy of the ones you have on hand. If you’re concerned about how many you’ll likely need, ask your funeral director. They’ll be able to gauge the number of copies required with a few basic questions.

Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in Iowa

The most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about death certificates in Iowa are whether or not they’re considered public information, who can request them, and how long one should expect to wait for them.

Are death certificates public record in Iowa?

The availability of death certificates is contingent upon the age of the record and the person’s relation when requesting it.

Contingency based on the age of the record is as follows:

  • Death records less than 75 years old are not available to the public and are considered private. 
  • Death records older than 75 years old are open to the public for such things as genealogical research.

Persons who are entitled to acquire records must provide:

  • Valid government-issued photo ID showing proof of direct familial relationship with the deceased
  • Valid government-issued photo ID showing evidence as being the deceased’s attorney or another authorized legal representative

One final consideration belongs to anyone with a certified court order, giving them the legal right to petition for the death certificate.

Who can request a death certificate in Iowa?

The availability of death certificates is dependent upon a few considerations. Take a look:

Entitled persons requesting a certified death certificate in Iowa identify as one of the following:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Legal parents
  • Grandparents 
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings
  • Legal representative 
  • Guardian

The following additional people are entitled to request a copy of the death certificate, but they will be required to provide further information as proof of that entitlement:

  • Legal guardians
  • Legal representatives
  • Siblings 

Anyone else seeking a certified death certificate isn't "entitled" to receive one. However, those people can instead freely seek out an uncertified death certificate using online search engines or other third party resources, but there will some sensitive data missing, such as:

  • Social security numbers
  • Financials and obligations
  • Adoption data

How long does it take to get a death certificate in Iowa?

The turnaround to receive a death certificate in Iowa varies depending on the method and intent of the request.

For in-person requests

Suppose you request a death certificate in person at the Lucas State Office Building in Des Moines. In that case, the death certificates are generally available the next business day for pick up after 2:00 p.m. 

Mailing the certificate after an in-person request can take an additional 5 to 7 days. And, if there are any errors or incomplete information to fix, you can count on further delays.

For requests via the telephone

The total processing time from the date of request is approximately two weeks and depends on the number of requests backlogged in the office. 

Add 7 to 10 business days for UPS delivery on top of the two weeks.

For requests sent via mail

Mailed forms require 5 to 7 business days to receive the request, up to 30 days for processing time, and an additional 5 to 7 days for sending them to you. 

Expect about 4 to 6 weeks total time.

For genealogy requests

All genealogy requests must be submitted by mail only and will take a minimum of 60 days of processing time—bookend additional mailing times to and from for a wait of at least ten weeks.

Note: if the death certificate hasn't arrived in the mail within 30 days, contact the issuing office. You have until 90 days from the date of issuance to replace missing or unreceived certificates. Afterward, any replacements will incur additional fees. 

For more information about death certificates, call the personnel directly at (515) 281-4944.

Searching for Death Certificates

As you’ve learned, there are many reasons to need or want a death certificate. Those reasons can be financial, legal, medical reasons, or just out of familial curiosity. 

In most cases, you’ll just need some basic information that is as easy as looking through a family bible or perhaps as time-consuming as scanning microfilm at the library.

For more information, check out our guide to preserving your family tree and other unique ways to remember a loved one.


Sources:
  1. “Iowa, United Stated Genealogy.” Family Search, Family Search, n.d. familysearch.org/wiki/en/Iowa,_United_States_Genealogy. 
  2. “Iowa Vital Records.” State Records, State Records, n.d. iowa.staterecords.org/vital.php. 
  3. “Where to Write for Vital Records: Iowa.” CDC, CDC, n.d. cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/iowa.htm. 
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