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

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Whether you’re keeping track of your family’s history or finalizing someone’s affairs, a death certificate is an important piece of the puzzle. Starting a death certificate search takes time, but it’s a relatively simple process when you understand each step. However, each state has its own rules and requirements about how to apply and who is eligible. 

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In Virginia, vital records are protected by privacy laws. This means only immediate family members are eligible to request these records until a specific period of time has passed. Additionally, Virginia didn’t begin collecting vital records until 1912, so you might need to pursue a few avenues depending on your type of search. 

With that in mind, how do you get a death certificate in Virginia? This guide explores the step-by-step process for ordering a death certificate in Virginia depending on your relationship with the deceased. With so many reasons for needing a death certificate, it’s important to know how this process works. 

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

Because Virginia has strict privacy laws, death records are not open to the public. Records are protected for 25 years. After this period passes, they become public record. Until then, you must be next-of-kin or an immediate family member to access them. 

Who is considered an immediate family member in Virginia?

  • Parents
  • Spouse
  • Adult child
  • Sibling

Additionally, you might be authorized to request a death certificate if you’re acting legally for any of the above individuals. If you’re not eligible as an immediate family member, you will need to provide proof in the form of official documents or court authorization. 

Everyone who applies for a death certificate in Virginia must share a copy of their ID and/or authorization documents. You can submit any primary document that includes a valid photo ID. This could be a passport, driver’s license, military ID, or foreign passport. Otherwise, you will need to provide two forms of secondary ID. A full list of updated ID requirements is available on the Virginia Department of Health website

What if you’re not qualified to receive a death certificate?

If you’re not one of the immediate family members listed above, you still have options. While you are not entitled to a full certified copy of a death certificate, there is another document you can request. This is known as a Verification of Death. 

The Verification of Death includes:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Date of birth
  • Last 4 digits of the Social Security Number

As long as you have a direct and tangible interest in the certificate, such as you’re the beneficiary for an insurance policy or co-property owner, you can request this document. That being said, you must provide documentation proving this authorization. You will still need to submit an application and photo ID. 

These Verification of Death documents can be used for legal and financial purposes, like sending an IRS death notification. Most third-party providers do not require cause of death information or the full Social Security Number on the death record to verify someone is deceased.

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Steps to Get an Original Death Certificate in Virginia

Now that you know who is eligible for vital records, let’s discuss how to apply for a death certificate in Virginia. There are a few different ways to apply, but they all require the same form and details listed in the steps below. 

Step 1: Visit the Virginia Department of Health Website

To apply for a death certificate, you will need to visit the Virginia Department of Health website. Their vital records portal is the place to begin your application. Once complete, you will have two ways to submit your application:

  • Mail: You can mail your completed application, copies of your ID, and payment to the Department of Vital Records. 
  • Walk-in: For faster service, you can drop off your completed application in person by leaving it at a Vital Records Office. 

Before you begin your application, read through the instructions on the Department of Health website clearly. You will need the ability to print your application to either mail it or deliver it by hand. In addition, you must use a US-based address. You cannot send your application from abroad. When you’re ready, select the type of certificate you need to begin the application. 

Step 2: Choose your certificate type

Next, start the application by choosing the type of certificate you’re requesting. You can choose from any of the following:

  • Death: A certified death certificate contains sensitive information, such as the cause of death and the decedent’s Social Security Number. You must be an immediate family member to be approved for this document. 
  • Death Verification: On the other hand, if you’re not an immediate family member but you have a tangible interest in this record, you can receive a Death Verification. This is a document that includes basic information about the deceased to verify their death. 
  • Stillbirth: Lastly, if you are the parents of a stillborn child, you can apply for their death record using this form as well. 

The cost is the same regardless of the type of record you choose. Keep in mind the ID requirements when making your selection. 

Step 3: Identify your payment type

Before you enter any additional information about yourself or the record, you must identify how you’d like to pay. You can either pay online with a credit or debit card, or mail a check. The method you choose will not affect your processing time, and each copy is a flat fee of $12. 

If you choose to complete a check or money order, make your check payable to the State Health Department. In the memo field, write the type of record you are requesting (ie. “Death Certificate”). It’s important to note that this fee is non-refundable, even if your record cannot be found. 

Step 4: List your information

To begin, you must fill out your information on the online application. You must list your relationship to the registrant, the reason for your request, your full name, email, phone number, and address. Ensure this information is correct before going to the next step. 

Next, complete the information found on the death record. This is to guide the search. You need to include the name of the deceased, their gender, date of death, age at death, place of death, and hospital name (if any). You should also try to include their parents’ names to expedite the process. While all of this information is not required, it is recommended. 

Step 5: Confirm and print your application

Once you’ve entered all of the requested information and verified it’s correct, it’s time to print your application. If you don’t have a printer at home, you can go to a print center or local library to print a copy. 

From there, you need to include a copy of your ID. This should be one of Virginia’s approved IDs, like a passport, driver’s license, and so on. If you chose to pay by check or money order, include this with your completed application as well. 

Step 6: Submit your application

Last but not least, mail or deliver your application in person. The fastest way to process your request is to deliver it yourself. If you deliver it in-person to an Office of Vital Records, you can often receive same-day service. Sign your application by hand. Any unsigned applications will not be processed.

If you’d prefer to mail your application vs. visiting an office in-person, address your application to:

Office of Vital Records
PO Box 1000
Richmond, VA 23218-1000

When your application has been received, you will get a tracking number by email or SMS. This can be used to track your application status online. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in Virginia

It’s normal and expected to have questions about the death certificate process. Since each state has its own methods and protocol, here are the most frequently asked questions for vital records in Virginia. 

Are death certificates public record in Virginia?

Death certificates are not public record in Virginia until 20 years pass. At that time, death records are made public through the State Archives. This allows people to access key documents for academic and genealogical research. 

Prior to this 20-year mark, all records are protected under the Virginia Department of Health. This limits who has access to key information, and it’s for the safety of the family and the deceased. 

Who can request a death certificate in Virginia?

If you’re an immediate family member of the deceased, you can request a full death certificate in Virginia. Otherwise, you can access what’s known as a Verification of Death form. This has less information, but it fills the same purpose as a death certificate. These are open to anyone with a tangible interest in the certificate. 

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

In Virginia, the length of time to process your request depends on the way you order. If you bring it to the office in person, you can likely get same-day service within 2-hours. Otherwise, if you submit your request by mail, you can expect to wait 2+ weeks. 

What type of death certificate do you need?

In Virginia, you can request different types of death certificates depending on your relationship with the deceased and your needs. In most cases, you don’t need a full death certificate. A Death Verification Form is enough for most legal and financial responsibilities, like sending a notification of death letter to credit bureaus

Request a Virginia Death Certificate

It can be intimidating to request a death certificate from a state Department of Health. Luckily, Virginia makes this process simple for family members handling a loved one’s final affairs. As long as you’re mindful of the process above, you can receive your document quickly and efficiently. 

Have you given much thought to your own final affairs? By taking the time to think through your wishes and save them with your loved ones, you’re taking this weight off their shoulders when the time does come. 


Sources:
  1. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Virginia Department of Health. VDH.Virginia.gov
  2. “Office of Vital Records.” Virginia Department of Health. VDH.Virginia.gov
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