How to Get a Death Certificate in Washington State: Step-By-Step

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Wondering why you may need a death certificate, how many copies to order, or how to access this information in the first place? Regardless of where you live, this task can be stress-inducing. If you need to obtain a death certificate in Washington State, this post is for you.

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The exact process, cost, and results of making a death certificate request can vary by state. These processes are also subject to change. However, there are convenient methods and reasonable fees for obtaining a death certificate in most states.

In this post, we’ll discuss how you can easily access death certificates in Washington State if they’re a matter of public record. We’ll also give you step-by-step instructions for ordering a death certificate or copies of the death certificate, and we’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions about obtaining death certificates. 

Are Death Certificates Public Record in Washington State?

First, let’s discuss what public records are as you begin your death certificate search. In a general sense, “public record” means that something has been filed by a public agency. More specifically “public record” means that the public can freely search and access this information—it’s not confidential. In some states, vital records such as death certificates are public records.

So are death certificates public record in Washington State? Yes—most death records are a matter of public record in Washington State. However, there are some eligibility requirements if you want to access certain redacted information.

You can also request different death records in Washington State, including long-form, short-form, and non-certified copies. There are easy ways to request these records from the comfort of your home that we’ll discuss in the following section.

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Steps for Ordering a Death Certificate in Washington State

In Washington State, the steps for ordering a death certificate are fairly simple. Depending on when you need the certificate (if you have any due dates), carefully choose the right method for you. That being said, you may not want to pay expedited shipping fees if you choose an online or by-mail option, so keep this in mind. 

Provide the proper information 

When requesting a death certificate in any state (unless the state provides them entirely through public records), you’ll have to provide some personal information to prove that you qualify. The required pieces of information to order a long-form death certificate, short-form death certificate, non-certified informational copy of a death record, and fetal death certificate in Washington State include:

  • First and last name of the deceased person
  • Date of death or approximate date of death (month and year)
  • City or county of death

Be aware of recent changes

Depending on your relationship to the deceased person, you may have a harder time getting the information you need. Additionally, some recent changes went into effect regarding death certificate requests in Washington State:

  • For increased security of personal information, only individuals with specific relationships to the person on the record requested can receive a certificate.
  • Applicants must provide identity and proof of relationship documentation.  
  • The certificate fee increased to $25 per copy.  

Why were these changes implemented? They added these extra steps to limit access to certified copies of records. According to the DOH website, this is an important step in protecting personal information and preventing fraudulent use. If you’d like to read the entirety of the changes made, you can review the vital records law here.

Send the correct funds

How much a death certificate costs in Washington State is described in the FAQ section. Fees now start at $25 but are subject to change depending on the services you select and if you choose to expedite the order. This cost is typical when compared to other states.

Washington State is also similar to others in that it uses one trusted vendor for online and phone requests, called VitalChek. VitalChek is also the trusted vendor for requesting death certificates in many other states.

Choose your request method

Like most states, Washington allows you to request a death certificate in a few different ways, as described below. Fees will mostly be the same for each method unless you choose to expedite your services. How long each of these methods takes is described in the FAQ section. 

  • In person: You can make a request in person, but this depends on whether your local health department is open for business. Nevertheless, this option typically has the quickest turnaround.
  • Online or over the phone: VitalChek is the only trusted vendor for Washington vital records. This service allows you to make online requests or requests over the phone. It’s also worth noting that you may find other vital record vendors on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the correct information (or receive it in a timely manner). 
  • By mail: Finally, you can also request a death certificate by mail. This option will take the longest, so be advised. You should also double-check that you have sent in the correct forms, if any, as well as sufficient funds. Unfortunately, if there’s an error with your request or you cannot access the death certificate, you’ll likely lose your payment regardless. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in Washington State

Even though the instructions for ordering a death certificate in Washington State may seem clear thus far, we also wanted to take the opportunity to answer some frequently asked questions. The answers below are primarily courtesy of the Washington Department of Health site.

How much does it cost to get a death certificate?

When ordering a death certificate in Washington State, fees are commonplace. Fees start at $25 per certified or non-certified (informational) copy. However, other fees may apply depending on how you order your copies or the shipping method you select. 

Furthermore, if you cannot provide proof of identification, proof of qualified relationship, or the required information to match the record, the order will get marked “closed” with no refunds issued.

Should I order copies of a death certificate?

Ordering copies at the same time that you make the initial certificate request in Washington State is the most hassle-free method of obtaining copies. Often, you’ll need more than one copy (likely five) of a death certificate to close out accounts or coordinate other arrangements. 

It’s also more cost-effective to request all of your copies at the same time. If you request copies simultaneously with the initial request, you may only have to pay processing or shipping fees once.

How long does it take to receive a death certificate in WA?

Like any order, the processing and delivery time depends on the way you order a death certificate. The timeframes listed below are based on when the Washington State Health Department receives your full payment and all of the required documentation. Missing information will delay orders or result in lost funds.

  • In-person requests: The fastest way to make your order is in person. Customers can receive most orders within the same day. You’ll have to check with your local health department to confirm their hours of operation.
  • Online or by phone: You can make orders online or via phone with VitalChek. Orders process and ship within three days, but they may take several weeks to arrive. Of course, you can also select expedited shipping options.
  • Requesting by mail: If you make a request by mail, you’ll receive the order within three weeks after the receipt and processing of your payment. Be advised that this is subject to change depending on the current volume of requests.

What are the different types of death certificates in WA?

Though there are different types of death certificates, and there are even forms called “death verifications” that go along with them, some states, like Washington, make it easy to distinguish between and request different types. The Washington Department of Health site describes each of these forms:  

  • Long-form death certificates: Long-form death certificates serve as official documents printed on certified security paper and used for legal purposes. They contain the cause and manner of death and the Social Security number of the deceased person. You may need this certificate to close out bank accounts or claim benefits such as life insurance. This is also the best type to notify the IRS of a death or send a notification of death to credit bureaus.
  • Short-form death certificates: The short-form death certificate is a new product offered only for deaths electronically registered from January 1, 2018, to the present. Short-form death certificates also serve as official documents printed on certified security paper and are used for legal purposes. However, they do not contain the cause and manner of death or the Social Security number of the deceased. You may use this product for transferring titles (e.g., vehicles), real estate transactions, and probate cases.
  • Non-certified informational copy: Non-certified informational copies of death records do not get issued on certified paper with security features, and they cannot be used for legal purposes. They contain a watermark stating, “Cannot be used for legal purposes. Informational only.” Non-certified informational copies of death records contain the same information as the short-form death certificate. These copies can be used for genealogical research, as one example. 

Research Provides Peace of Mind

Requesting death certificates may not be something you’re doing by choice. It may feel like just another complicated “to-do” in the wake of losing a loved one. However, with the proper research and a mindful decision about which method works best for you, you can get that much closer to finding peace of mind.

For more resources on navigating end-of-life planning, including a handy checklist, be sure to visit the rest of Cake. You can even set up a digital end-of-life planning profile for yourself or a loved one, for free. 


Sources:
  1. "Vital Records." Washington Department of Health. doh.wa.gov
  2. "Washington State Local Health Departments and Districts." Washington Department of Health. doh.wa.gov
  3. "Washington State Legislature - Chapter 70.58A RCW: VITAL STATISTICS." Washington State Legislature. app.leg.wa.gov
  4. "VitalChek: Order Your Vital Records Online." VitalChek. vitalchek.com
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