If you need a death certificate for a loved one, it’s not always clear how to proceed. Each state has its own laws and rules about how to apply for these vital records and who qualifies to access this information. In Rhode Island, there are strict confidentiality laws around death certificates, and this means beginning a death certificate search involves many steps.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Are Death Certificates Public Record in Rhode Island?
- What Do You Need to Order a Death Certificate in Rhode Island?
- Steps to Get an Original Death Certificate in Rhode Island
- Frequently Asked Questions for Death Certificates in Rhode Island
Still, there are multiple ways to order copies of vital records in Rhode Island. Whether you wish to close someone’s accounts, send an IRS death notification, or keep accurate family records, it’s possible to handle these requests either in-person, by mail, or online.
Death certificates are legal documents issued by local authorities when someone dies. They legally act as evidence of someone’s death for several purposes, usually related to legal and financial institutions. They’re also an accurate way to keep records for families and local areas. Keep reading to learn how to get a death certificate in Rhode Island.
Are Death Certificates Public Record in Rhode Island?
In some states, death certificates are public record documents. This means they’re open to anyone 18 and older. However, due to increased cases of fraud and identity theft, many states limit public record laws to exclude vital records. This is typical for all recent deaths.
In Rhode Island, vital records are not open to the public. These are confidential documents, and they’re only available to those with a “direct and tangible interest” in the record. This is defined as any of the following:
- Adult child
- Spouse or partner
- Authorized agent
- Legal authorities (attorneys-at-law, title examiners, or member of legally incorporated genealogical societies)
In addition to the above, if someone has a court order or needs the information on a vital record to determine personal or property rights, this is considered a direct interest. Any firm, agency, or individual requesting this information for commercial purposes is not allowed. It’s also against the law to copy part or all of a vital record in Rhode Island.
What Do You Need to Order a Death Certificate in Rhode Island?
Next, you will need to provide proof to obtain a record under any of these relationships above. Depending on the way you submit your request, you will need to show legal documents, identify yourself, or answer key questions about your relationship with the deceased.
Whether you apply online, by mail, or in person, you will need to provide a valid government-issued photo ID. This could be a driver’s license, passport, military ID, etc. You might also need to show proof that you have a direct and tangible interest in the document, such as a court order or marriage certificate.
Steps to Get an Original Death Certificate in Rhode Island
Now that you know who can apply for a death certificate, what is the process to request one? There is a different method for how to get a death certificate in each state. Follow the steps below to request a death certificate in Rhode Island.
Step 1: Confirm your eligibility and choose your method
Before you begin, confirm that you’re eligible to request a death certificate in Rhode Island. Applying under false pretenses is considered fraud and has legal consequences. Additionally, your request will not be completed if you are determined not to be eligible.
Once you recognize whether you’re able to apply, choose your method. You can apply online, by mail, or in person. Each method has its pros and cons:
- Online: Rhode Island uses the third-party service VitalChek to complete online vital record requests. This is the only authorized third party in Rhode Island, and it does cost an extra processing fee.
- Mail: You can also complete a paper application to submit by mail. To download the Rhode Island Death Certificate Request Form, visit the Rhode Island Department of Health website. It is downloadable as a Word document.
- In-person: Lastly, you can visit the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Center for Vital Records or a town clerk’s office to place an order in person. This is the most affordable method, and it is also the fastest.
The application and verification process is similar for all of the methods above. You will need the same information to complete your application regardless of what you choose. When you’re ready, continue to the steps below.
Step 2: Confirm the information on the death record
The first step is to confirm the information found on the death certificate. Complete as much information as you can to yield the best results. If you’re unable to fill out the full section, it’s best to submit a request in person so you can talk about your options.
You will need to list the full name of the deceased, their place of death, date of birth, spouse’s name (if applicable), and parents’ full names. Also identify your relationship with the deceased (parent, child, sibling, etc.), keeping in mind the eligibility requirements.
Step 3: List why you need the record
In the state of Rhode Island, the Vital Records Center will send you a certified copy specifically suitable to your needs. There are a lot of reasons for needing a death certificate, and not every death certificate has someone’s full details (cause of death, social security number, and so on).
To make sure you get the right type of record for your request, answer this question truthfully. You can choose between any of the following or write in your own choice:
- Foreign government
- Social Security
- Veteran benefits
- Property title
Some other options might include insurance benefits, bank account closures, or genealogy research. The purpose of your request is for the state’s recordkeeping.
Step 4: Share applicant information
Next, you need to share your own information as the applicant. This includes your name, address, and phone number. You will need to also provide proof of your identity in the form of a photocopy of a government-issued ID.
Unless you’re a close family member, you also need to show legal authorization in the form of court or estate documents. Any false claims for these documents are punishable by law.
Step 5: Pay for your request
Before you submit, you need to pay for your request. Death records are available for a fee in the state of Rhode Island, and you can’t access these documents for free. The fees are as follows:
- Online: Orders online through VitalChek cost $35 per record. You can pay via credit card, debit card, or check.
- Mail: For mail-in orders, the first copy is $25. Any additional copies requested at the same time cost $18 per record. You must pay via check or money order made payable to the General Treasurer of Rhode Island.
- In-person: Requests made in person cost $22 for the first copy, and they cost an additional $18 per copy purchased the same day. Orders can be rushed for a $7 fee. You can pay via check, cash, or money order.
Note that your order cannot be returned or refunded even if your request can’t be found or you’re not eligible. All payments are nonrefundable.
Step 6: Submit your application
Lastly, once you’ve confirmed all of the information on your request is correct, submit your application. If you’re ordering through the mail, address your application to:
RI Department of Health
Office of Vital Records
3 Capitol Hill
Providence, RI 02908
There are different processing times depending on how you placed your request and whether you paid an additional rush fee. The average processing times are between one and three weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions for Death Certificates in Rhode Island
Whether you’re sending a notification of death letter to the credit bureaus or updating your family records, it’s normal to have questions throughout the application process for vital records. Here are the most frequently asked questions about this process.
Can I access records for free in Rhode Island?
In Rhode Island, vital records are not available for free regardless of your relationship with the deceased. You will need to pay a fee depending on your processing time and your method for ordering.
Death records start at $22 per record if you order in-person and $35 if you order online. This is a nonrefundable fee. You can pay through different methods depending on how you order.
How do I search for death records in Rhode Island?
If you only need to search for a record (vs. have a copy of a certified death certificate), you can do this by visiting the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Center for Vital Records. Alternatively, you can visit any city or town’s clerk office.
To search for a single record, it’s free for two consecutive years. After this, you’ll need to pay $2 to search for any additional years. Again, you must prove you’re eligible to begin a search.
Is it possible to search early death records?
Rhode Island was one of the first states to adopt recordkeeping for death records. They have records dating back to 1853. However, some earlier records were kept by towns starting in 1636.
The Rhode Island State Archives are free to search online, and you can also find information through third-party ancestry websites. Older records are usually available to the public for free.
Find the Right Death Record
Death records are an important part of someone’s legacy. Whether you’re keeping family records, building your family tree, or closing someone’s financial accounts, each of these steps carries a lot of significance. We all have to think for ourselves how we’d like to be remembered, and our vital documents play a large role in this.
Now that you know how to order a death certificate in Rhode Island, you’re prepared for any of the next steps ahead. From talking to your families about your wishes to handling a loved one’s final affairs, don’t underestimate the power of legacies and remembrance. It might seem intimidating to start your record search, but it’s easier than you think with the steps above.
If you're a Rhode Island resident and ready to start preparing your own end-of-life planning documents, Cake has Advance Care Planning forms you can download. To help ease your planning, we have all the documents you need in one place.
- “Copies of Birth, Death, or Marriage Record.” State of Rhode Island Department of Health. health.RI.gov.
- “How to Find Rhode Island Death Records.” Family Search. FamilySearch.org.