How to Get a Death Certificate in South Carolina: Step-By-Step

Updated

If you’re looking to request a loved one’s death certificate in South Carolina, you can start a death certificate search directly through the South Carolina Department of Health. However, before you begin, there are a few things you need to know about the process. South Carolina has strict guidelines about who can receive certified death records. 

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With so many reasons for needing a death certificate, from family history record-keeping to handling a loved one’s affairs after they pass, it can feel intimidating to begin. Luckily, as long as you’re an immediate family member of the deceased, it’s a relatively straightforward application process. 

This step-by-step guide walks you through everything you’ll need to know to make sure your application is received and approved the first time around. Taking the initiative to order this document on behalf of a loved one is an act of compassion and kindness. Congratulations on taking this first step. 

What Do You Need to Order a Death Certificate in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, not everyone can apply for a death certificate. Only immediate family members of the deceased or a legally authorized party can request death certificates in South Carolina. Why is this? In South Carolina, vital records are not open to the public. 

The privacy around these documents is for the protection of the deceased and their family. Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of fraudulent activities that target the dead and their finances. Keeping this information private and open only to authorized individuals is for the protection of everyone. 

That said, if you’re not a member of the immediate family, you can still receive an uncertified copy of a death certificate. This type of copy has more limitations and less information, but it’s easier to apply for in South Carolina.

What do you need to apply for a certified death certificate?

If you’d wish to apply for a certified death certificate, you’ll need to submit a copy of your ID. It must be a valid government, school, or employer-issued photo ID. If you don’t pass this security protocol, you will not be issued a certified copy. 

Additionally, if you’re acting on behalf of a family member, you’ll need authorization documents. Depending on your situation, this could be a court order, authorization form, property title, or something else.

If you’re unable to provide authorization, you will only receive a confirmation that the death certificate exists, not a certified copy. 

What types of death records are available?

There are two types of death records you can request in South Carolina. These are:

  • Certified death certificates: This is an official legal document proving someone died. Certified death certificates are used for most legal and financial matters. You must be related to the deceased or an authorized party to access this document. 
  • Statement of death: A statement of death has the date and county of death, but it’s not a certified record. This can still be used for a number of purposes, like genealogy and closing accounts. Anyone can apply for this in South Carolina. 

You will need a certified death certificate for most financial and legal tasks after a loved one’s death. If you need to send a notification of death letter to credit bureaus or an IRS death notification, for example, it’s a good idea to request certified copies. 

However, it’s important to note that after 50 years, all death certificates become public record. This means you can request an older death certificate for a loved one regardless of your relationship so long as you submit an application and the required fees. 

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Steps to Get an Original Death Certificate in SC

Now that you know who can apply, it’s time to learn how to get a death certificate in South Carolina. There are multiple ways to order in this state of South Carolina, so you can choose the method that’s most convenient for you. 

Step 1: Choose your method

Unlike other states, South Carolina has five different methods for ordering death certificates. Each method has its benefits, and some take longer than others. In addition, some ways have extra processing fees. Here’s a breakdown of each choice:

  • Online: You can order a death certificate online through VitalChek or GoCertificates. Both of these third-party providers have a similar online form and charge specific fees for using their services. 
  • Phone: Another option is to order by phone through VitalChek. To start your order, call 877-284-1088. Representatives are available every day at all hours. 
  • In-person: If you live near a vital record office, you can visit in-person for same-day service. It’s a good idea to complete the application in advance to save time. 
  • Mail: Though this method takes longer, it’s efficient. You can send an application form, searching fee, and photocopy of your ID to the Richland County office to process your request. 
  • Drop-off: Lastly, you can drop off your completed application, fee, and a photocopy of your ID to the State Vital Records Office in Columbia for faster service. 

Depending on your specific timeline, there are a lot of options to choose from. Consider your budget and the timeframe for your request when determining which of the above is right for you. 

Step 2: Enter your information

Complete the first section of this application with your own information. As the applicant, you need to share your name, phone number, address, email address, and relationship to the deceased. You will also need to share the reason for your request (insurance, benefits, legal, genealogy, etc.). 

All the information that you include will remain with the record for future reference. If your mailing address is different from your home address, you can list them separately. Ensure you enter everything correctly to avoid any delays. 

Step 3: Share information found on the death certificate

To guide the search for the correct document, list as much information as possible that can be found on the death certificate. This information should match the record, so be as specific as possible. 

You need to list the name of the deceased, their date of death (or date ranges), sex, age at death, and city or county of death. While you don’t have to list everything, it’s best to share as much as possible. If the office doesn’t have enough information, they might not be able to locate the death certificate. 

Step 4: Pay the required search fee

In South Carolina, there is a search fee for any record request. This is a non-refundable fee, and the cost depends on the method of request you choose. The search fee is generally $12 per order, and there is an additional fee of $3 per extra copy made at the same time. If paying by check, make all requests payable to SC DHEC. 

If you’re ordering through a third-party service, the fees are as follows:

  • VitalChek: By phone or online, VitalChek costs $17 for the search plus $10.50 in service fees. If you want faster shipping, you can pay a surcharge for expedited service.
  • GoCertificates: GoCertificates costs $17 for the search with an additional vendor processing fee of $9.00 per order—plus shipping costs. 

If you pay online or over the phone, credit or debit cards are accepted. Otherwise, be prepared to pay with a check or money order. Note that the fees are non-refundable, even if your record cannot be located.

Step 5: Upload or include identification

Next, you’ll need to upload or include a photocopy of your ID. If you order online, you’ll need to verify your identity. If your identity can’t be verified, you will need to upload additional documents. 

If you’re applying by mail or by drop-off, take a photocopy of your ID. You can use any driver’s license, school or employer picture, military ID, passport, or resident card. If you’re acting as an authorized party (not an immediate family member), you will need to share additional proof for your request. 

Step 6: Submit your order

Finally, submit your order to the South Carolina Vital Records Office. If you’re applying online or by phone, keep your confirmation for your records. Otherwise, mail your request to:

SC DHEC - Vital Records
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, SC 29201

Note that different processing times depend on the method in which you made your request. Make sure you include a completed application, payment, and ID with each request. Any errors will result in delays. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in South Carolina

If you have any questions as you work through the steps above, consult these frequently asked questions. 

Do you have to pay to get a death certificate in South Carolina?

Yes, you have to pay for a death certificate in South Carolina. There is a search fee required and an additional fee for each copy you request with the same order. If you order via mail, in-person, or drop-off, the search fee is $12 with an additional copy fee of $3. 

If you order online or by phone, third-party service providers charge $17 for the search fee and $3 per additional copy. There is also a third-party fee of $9 - $10.50. Remember, these payments are non-refundable. 

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

The processing times differ depending on how you order, which is why it’s essential to choose the right method for your timeline. Here are the current wait times:

  • Online: 5 to 7 business days
  • Phone: 5 to 7 business days
  • In-person: Same day service
  • Mail: 2 to 4 weeks
  • Drop-offs: 2 days

The fastest way, by far, is to visit an office in person. Otherwise, consider how much time you have to handle any tasks or research and choose accordingly. 

Death Records in South Carolina

Ultimately, it’s a fairly straightforward process to order a death certificate in South Carolina. As long as you have key information found on the death certificate, your search should be easy to complete.

There are many reasons you might need to request a death certificate in South Carolina. It might even simply be an act of remembrance for your loved one, honoring their memory after they’ve passed. By handling these affairs for your loved one, you keep their legacy alive and well, ensuring they rest in peace. 


Source:
  1. “Death Certificates.” South Carolina Department of Health. SCDHEC.gov
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