When you’re responsible for closing a loved one’s estate, executing the will, or managing tasks such as closing digital or physical accounts for a deceased loved one, you’ll need a copy of their death certificate. If you haven’t gone through this process before, you may find yourself wondering where to get a copy so you can start completing these tasks.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Will the Funeral Home Keep a Copy of a Death Certificate?
- Who Typically Keeps the Original Death Certificate?
- Who Can Request an Original Death Certificate?
- Why Do You Need a Certified Copy of a Death Certificate?
- Where Can You Find or Order a Copy of a Death Certificate?
Thankfully, accessing a copy of your loved one’s death certificate is a fairly simple and straightforward process. Read on to determine what steps you need to take to get a copy of a loved one’s death certificate.
Will the Funeral Home Keep a Copy of a Death Certificate?
It’s often the funeral director who files your loved one’s information with the state to get the process rolling to obtain copies of a death certificate. It makes sense, then, that you might think the local funeral home would have a copy on file somewhere in the back office. Unfortunately, funeral homes don’t keep death certificates on hand.
Note: The funeral director can help you acquire certified copies, but they aren’t the ones to provide them. Copies come directly from the state or local government offices.
Who Typically Keeps the Original Death Certificate?
When you request an original death certificate, you’ll receive certified copies from the local vital records office. These are copies that serve as legal documents and proof of a person’s death. You can provide them to financial institutions, the court, and any companies that need legal proof of death to proceed with your requests.
Certified copies are considered “original,” and you can order as many as you need. They come with a government seal embossed on the certificate to prove that they are legal and authentic. People who would keep a certified copy of a death certificate typically include the executor of a person’s estate and the person’s spouse.
Another family member who is acting on behalf of the deceased or someone who has a stake in the estate and needs to prove their level of involvement may also request a death certificate for court purposes.
Apart from legal matters, you don’t need to hold on to a copy of a person’s death certificate. If you want one for record-keeping or sentimental purposes, you can always order an informational copy from the local vital records office.
Note: Informational copies are for “information” only. These can’t be used as legal proof of someone’s death or to proceed with court or estate matters.
Who Can Request an Original Death Certificate?
When it comes to getting a death certificate, there are a few important things to know. Not just anyone can request an original or certified copy of a death certificate. Only certain key people are allowed to request a certified death certificate copy including:
- An executor
- A spouse
- A parent
- A child
- A grandchild
- A sibling
- A lawyer or individual acting on an above individual’s behalf
Along with having the proper relationship status, you’ll need to present proof of your relationship when requesting a certified copy of the death certificate. This typically includes providing a certified copy of a marriage or birth certificate, depending on your relationship.
Laws do vary by state, but these are the general rules you can expect to encounter.
Note: After someone has been deceased for 50 years, most states allow anyone to request a death certificate copy. If you need a copy for informational purposes such as a legacy project or ancestry research and your ancestor has been deceased for at least 50 years, you’ll have no issue when requesting a copy.
Why Do You Need a Certified Copy of a Death Certificate?
There are many reasons why you might need a certified copy of a loved one’s death certificate. This is especially true if you’re acting as the executor of their will or you’re the spouse and you need to handle financial affairs. Here’s a short list of tasks that require someone’s certified death certificate.
- Closing bank accounts: Financial institutions such as a bank account will require a certified copy of a death certificate as proof of a person’s death. Until this is delivered, their account can’t be shut down, closed, or transferred to their spouse as the sole owner.
- Notifying the credit bureaus: One of the first things you’ll want to do is notify the credit bureaus of a person’s death. By doing this, you protect their information from being fraudulently stolen and used. The bureaus will put a “death indicator” notice on the person’s account, and hold onto their information so if someone tries to use it, the action will get flagged in their system.
- Processing life insurance claims: If your loved one had a life insurance policy and you’re the beneficiary, you’ll need to file a claim. In order to process your claim, the insurance company will request a certified copy of their death certificate.
- Stopping government benefits: Veteran’s benefits and social security benefits stop once a person passes away. You’ll need to notify both agencies, and each will require a certified copy of the person’s death certificate.
- Property transfer: In order to transfer property ownership, a certified death certificate will be required.
- Final tax returns: To file a final tax return on your loved one’s behalf for the year they passed away, you’ll need to file their taxes and include a certified copy of their death certificate.
Where Can You Find or Order a Copy of a Death Certificate?
You can order certified copies of a loved one’s death certificate through two primary methods. First, you can do so directly through the funeral director you work with. Secondly, you can order copies through the local government’s vital records office. Neither method requires much time or effort.
We know what you’re thinking and yes, we did say that funeral homes don’t keep death certificate copies on hand. That is still true. However, when a funeral home director works with a family, they typically take on the responsibility of reporting a person’s death to the state and filling out all the necessary forms to request a death certificate.
Ask if your funeral director does this for your loved one, and if the answer is yes, you can then have them request multiple certified copies at the same time. If you’re an executor or loved one taking care of multiple tasks such as property transfer or insurance claims, it’s a good idea to ask your funeral director to request anywhere from six to 12 certified copies.
Certified copies get mailed to government agencies, insurance offices, and financial institutions where they are kept on file. Since each of these places needs its own copy, you’ll need multiple certified copies to mail in for them to keep.
The local vital records office
Whether you’re working with a funeral home or not, you can always request copies from your state or county’s vital records office. The important thing to note here is that you need to reach out to the vital records office in the state and county where your loved one died. Vital records such as birth and death certificates are only held in the location where the person was born or where they passed away.
Every state is different, and each has slightly different forms and requirements for requesting a certified copy of a death certificate. In general, you’ll need to provide proof of your relationship to the deceased and pay for each copy. Fees tend to range from $5 to $20 per copy. If you’re the executor, this expense can come out of your loved one’s estate.
To find out how and where to make your request, you’ll likely want to perform a quick internet search with the words, “[your county, state] vital records office.” For example, you might need to search “Jameson County, Mississippi vital records office” to find the location of the Jameson County vital records office, their hours, phone number, and web address. You can then proceed to their website or call to determine the specific information you need to request certified copies of your loved one’s death certificate.
Searching online for your county’s vital records office can come in handy because:
- Some states have a combined vital records office that manages several counties
- Some states allow you to request a certificate online
- Some states allow walk-in requests
- Some states don’t have a vital records office at all and vital records requests are handled by the county clerk or courthouse.
Note: If you’re uncertain of which county to contact, the funeral home might be able to provide guidance for that, as they might have the county of death recorded in their own records.
Obtaining a Certified Death Certificate
Requesting one or more copies of a certified death certificate is a simple but important step to take if you’re responsible for handling your loved one’s estate. You’ll need it to close accounts, complete financial transactions, and carry out your executor duties. Thankfully, as long as you have the right information on hand, you should be able to order and receive as many copies as you need without much of an issue.