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

Updated

So, you’re beginning the process of a death certificate search in Pennsylvania. How complicated is this process? What kind of information do you need to get your original certificate or certified copies successfully? 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Requesting a death certificate may seem like a daunting task. However, like most states, getting a death certificate in Pennsylvania is relatively easy and straightforward. This is true whether your loved one passed away recently or a long, long time ago.

This post will discuss how to get an original death certificate or copies in Pennsylvania using a few different methods. 

How to Get an Original Death Certificate in Pennsylvania

The process of getting a death certificate in Pennsylvania is relatively simple. In fact, the death certificates page on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website has almost all of the information you’ll need in one spot. 

Pennsylvania provides a few different ways for requesting an original death certificate. These methods are fairly streamlined as compared to other states that have a few various authorized third-parties. Pennsylvania only has one!

Online via VitalChek

VitalChek.com is Pennsylvania’s only authorized vendor of online death record requests. First, you’ll file your request with VitalChek. Then, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) will process the requests.

If you choose a different vendor, they will convert your orders to a paper application, which then get submitted to the Pennsylvania DOH. This will take longer and could cause a delay. If you have any looming due dates, it’s a good idea to go through VitalChek directly.

If you go through a different vendor and experience any issues, you will have to contact the vendor directly. The Pennsylvania DOH will not be able to intervene. However, if you believe you have received inaccurate information once your request is processed, you can then contact Pennsylvania DOH services for assistance.

Telephone via VitalChek

You can also order a death certificate in Pennsylvania over the phone. However, instead of talking directly to an office of vital records based in Pennsylvania, you will speak with a VitalChek agent.

In person

To request a death certificate in person in Pennsylvania, you’ll have to make an appointment. Offices are currently open and available in:

  • Erie
  • Harrisburg
  • New Castle
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh

Besides choosing a location that’s preferable to you, you’ll also have to fill out a Vital Records Appointment Request Form and an Application for a Death Certificate before your visit. After filling out these forms and returning them via email or fax, you’ll be contacted to make an appointment.

By mail

Finally, if you’d prefer to request a death certificate by mail in Pennsylvania, you can do so. However, this method has the most extended processing times. You may complete an Application for Death Certificate and mail it to the address listed below. All certificates are mailed using First Class Mail. You can request expedited shipping via UPS for an additional fee.  

Division of Vital Records
Death Certificate Processing Unit
PO Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103

ยป MORE: There's a lot to do when someone dies. Delegate tasks with Cake's post loss checklist.

 

How to Order a Copy of a Death Certificate in Pennsylvania 

When requesting a death certificate in Pennsylvania, you may also find yourself needing additional copies. However, be advised that there is a difference between death certificates and death verifications. 

Another type of record: Death verifications

Death verifications are another type of official paperwork filed with death certificates. The death verification does just that — it verifies the death is legitimate. These forms are generally more straightforward and may not appear like actual certificates.

Death verifications are often all that is required by credit card companies, cell phone providers, and related entities to verify the death of your loved one. You will need this information to cancel these types of services after your loved one has passed away.

Another reason you may need a death certificate is to notify the IRS of a death. You can read more about writing a notification of death letter to credit bureaus on Cake. 

Request copies when obtaining the official death certificate

We recommend requesting five to ten copies of your loved one’s death certificate. When completing your request for a certified death certificate in Pennsylvania, make sure to get additional copies.

This also ensures that the copies are legitimate and will be accepted by the agencies that need them. You should expect to pay the same price for each copy of a death certificate in Pennsylvania. 

Though you won’t save a ton of money by making your request all at once, you will save a significant amount of hassle. Also, there is a $10 processing fee each time you make a request. Be proactive and request a few official copies even if you think you don’t need them, especially if you’re handling your loved one’s estate.

Frequently Asked Questions: PA Death Certificates

Though it is easy to request a death certificate in Pennsylvania, you may still have some questions. Here are some FAQs, like reasons why you need a death certificate that you may not have thought of.

What are some reasons for needing a death certificate?

If you’ve never handled a deceased loved one’s arrangements before, it may seem like your to-do list is never-ending. Or, even if you have, some of these processes are subject to change. As of right now, however, there are six main reasons you may need a death certificate for a loved one, including:

  • Requesting payouts from insurance agencies
  • Filing final tax returns
  • Transferring human remains
  • Transferring titles between owners
  • Tying up retirement plans, military benefits, and pensions
  • Closing or squaring away financial accounts

Are death certificates public record in Pennsylvania?

In some states, vital records, such as death certificates, are public record. In a general sense, public record means that a public agency has filed something. More specifically, public record indicates that the public can search and access this information — it’s not confidential.

Certified death certificates are not available for public record in Pennsylvania. However, copies may be accessed for genealogical functions.

How long does it take to receive a death certificate?

The great thing about Pennsylvania is that you can file a request for a death certificate online anytime, day or night, from the comfort of your own home. So, if you had forgotten to tie up this loose end and simply can’t wait another day — don’t stress! 

You still may prefer other methods of request. Walking in can allow you to ask additional questions on-the-spot rather than over the phone. As aforementioned, Pennsylvania also provides a way for you to make requests over the phone. Finally, you can also request death certificates by mail.

Depending on your request, how you requested it, and other factors, processing times can vary. Also worth noting, too, that these estimated processing times do not include delivery. Orders placed online via VitalChek are currently estimated at three weeks.

Paper orders filed with the Division of Vital records are estimated at four weeks. You can also request expedited services (for a fee) for a quicker turnaround.

What do you need to order a death certificate in Pennsylvania?

In terms of personal information, there are specific requirements you must meet to successfully get a death certificate in Pennsylvania. You can review all the stipulations on the official Pennsylvania DOH page. Here are a few:

  • Fill out the Application for Death Certificate.
  • Show valid identification.
  • Sign your application.
  • Be an eligible applicant. Eligible applicants must be 18 years of age or older and include spouses, ex-spouses with a direct interest, parents or step-parents, siblings, half-siblings, children, those with legal power, etc.

As far as payment goes, online, phone, in-person, and by-mail requests all cost $20 with an additional $10 processing fee. Telephone services with VitalChek cost the same. If you request expedited services, you will be subject to additional charges. Worth noting, if you are a member of the armed forces or meet some other requirements, you may be exempt from all fees.

Don’t Stress About Getting a Death Certificate 

It’s unfortunate that after a loved one passes, there’s a massive list of tasks, records, arrangements, and other loose ends to tie up. It can certainly be overwhelming at times. Getting a death certificate doesn’t have to add a considerable burden. The state of Pennsylvania really does make the process seamless.

For more resources on navigating end-of-life planning, including a checklist, be sure to check out Cake. You can even make it easy for loved ones to tie up loose ends by setting up a digital end-of-life planning profile on Cake’s free platform for yourself or a loved one. 


Sources:

  1. Death Certificates. Pennsylvania Department of Health. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/certificates/Pages/Death-Certificates.aspx
  2. Pennsylvania Vital Records. Vitalchek.com. https://www.vitalchek.com/vital-records/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-vital-records
  3. Public Offices. Pennsylvania Department of Health. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/certificates/Pages/Public-Offices.aspx
  4. Current Processing Times. Pennsylvania Department of Health. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/certificates/Pages/Processing-Times.aspx
  5. Acceptable-ID. Pennsylvania Department of Health. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/certificates/Pages/Acceptable-ID.aspx
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