California has a robust, complex system for securing and protecting vital records. A vital record is any type of document related to birth, death, marriage, or divorce. These are often used to verify identity. Death certificates are used to conduct genealogical research, close accounts, and finalize someone’s affairs after death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Who’s Allowed to Order a Death Certificate in California?
- Steps for Ordering a Death Certificate in California Online
- Steps for Ordering a Death Certificate in California In Person or By Mail
- Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in California
If you’re wondering how to get a death certificate, you’re in luck. California’s online system through the State Department of Health is relatively easy to follow. You can order a certified copy of a death certificate online or by mail. Depending on your relationship with the deceased, you’ll have access to other types of certified documents as well.
Because starting a death certificate search can be tricky, this guide will walk you through the step-by-step process of requesting a death certificate in California online or by mail. The Golden State has a different system for organizing records than many other states, so it’s a good idea to follow the instructions carefully.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming if you don't have a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Who’s Allowed to Order a Death Certificate in California?
In the state of California, death records are not kept under strict privacy laws. Unlike other states, most death records are public record and available to the public. That being said, your relationship with the deceased affects the type of record you can apply for in this state.
If you need a certified copy (used to prove identity and complete formal documents), you’ll have to prove you’re an immediate family member. Alternatively, you can get authorized by the court. You must be:
- A parent of the deceased
- An adult child of the deceased
- A spouse or domestic partner
- A member of a law enforcement agency conducting official business
- A representative of a government agency conducting official business
- A person or agency empowered by the court to act on behalf of the deceased or their estate
- An attorney representing the registrant or their estate
- An agent or employee of a funeral establishment
If you don’t qualify as any of the above, you can still request what’s known as a Certified Informational Copy. This does not require any identification or authorization. However, it comes with an explicit notice that it’s an informational document only and can’t be used to verify identity.
Depending on the reasons why you may need a death certificate, an informational copy may be all that’s required. Check with your loved one’s accounts or providers to see what type of death certificate is needed.
Steps for Ordering a Death Certificate in California Online
The easiest method of ordering a death certificate is to request a copy online. The state of California Department of Health has all vital records since 1905. Follow the steps below to request a death certificate virtually.
Step 1. Navigate to VitalChek
The first step is to navigate to VitalChek’s page for California vital records. VitalChek is a third-party service used by many states to process online record searches. While there is an additional fee for VitalChek, it’s the most convenient option.
Though you might find other third-party providers online, it’s important to note that VitalChek is the only tool approved by the state of California.
Once on VitalChek’s website, click “Death Certificate” to start the process.
Step 2. Enter information from the death certificate
The first section of the online portal is about information found on the death certificate. Confirm the state (California), enter the city of death, date of death, reason for your request, full name on the death certificate, and your relationship to the deceased.
If you’re missing any of the information above, visit an in-person office or complete an application by mail. This allows you to leave some spaces blank, though it might slow down your request.
Step 3. Enter requestor information
As the requester of this document, you need to confirm your own identity. Enter your full name, address, and contact information. Ensure this is correct. Any errors will slow down your request.
What you enter here affects what type of record you’re given — whether you receive an official or informational copy. Again, the eligibility rules apply.
Step 4. Make your payment
Before you go any further, you need to enter payment information. In California, VitalChek only offers online payment through credit card. The first copy fee is $21, and VitalChek charges an additional processing fee of $12.95.
Keep in mind that this fee is nonrefundable. Even if your order can’t be completed, your fee will not be refunded or returned. The same fee applies whether you request a certified copy or informational copy. Confirm your payment details and submit your order.
If all you need is an informational copy, this is your last step! Once you’ve submitted the VitalChek form, you’re done.
Step 5. Submit supplemental documentation
If you need an authorized copy to confirm identity, you’ll be asked to enter additional information and complete a verification form.
Why would you need an authorized copy? If you’re trying to close accounts, access benefits, or notify the IRS of death, you’ll need a certified copy of the death certificate. If your verification can’t be completed for some reason, you’ll be given an informational copy instead.
Steps for Ordering a Death Certificate in California In Person or By Mail
If you’d prefer to order a death certificate in California in person or by mail, that’s also an option. If you choose to go in person, it’s a good idea to complete the application before your visit to speed up your request.
Step 1. Download the application
First, download the official application for a death record from the State of California Health and Human Services Agency. The application begins on page 3 and continues through page 5. The remaining pages share clear instructions and helpful tips for how to fill out the forms properly.
Step 2. Choose your certification type
To begin, confirm the type of certification you’re requesting (authorized or informational). If you wish to request an authorized copy, you’ll need to complete the notarized sworn statement section included in the application.
Then, select the appropriate box indicating your relationship to the deceased. If none are appropriate and you’re applying for an informational copy, leave this box blank.
Step 3. Enter death record and applicant information
Next, enter the information found on the death record. This includes the name of the deceased, county of death, date of death, social security number, date of birth, parent name, and spouse name (if applicable). If there is something you don’t know, you can leave that line blank.
Then, enter your information as the applicant. You should include your name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and the reason for your request.
Step 4. Choose your number of copies
Once you’ve confirmed the information above, indicate the number of copies you need. You can choose as many as you’d like. Each copy costs $21.
For mail-in orders, you can’t pay with cash. Enclose a money order or check for the total made out to “CDPH - Vital Records.” If you complete your request in person, you can pay with a check, money order, or credit card.
Step 5. Complete the sworn statement (optional)
If you’re applying for an authorized copy, you must complete the sworn statement request on page 5 of the application. These must be notarized unless you’re a member of law enforcement, acting as a government agency, or you’re affiliated with a funeral home.
The sworn statement is a way to confirm your identity and relationship to the deceased. Once complete, include the sworn statement with your application.
Step 6. Mail or submit your request
The last step is to mail your request or drop it off at a vital records office. Mail your completed request, sworn statement, and payment to the following address:
California Department of Public Health
Vital Records - MS 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410
Processing times currently are between 10 to 12 weeks for mail-in requests. These are subject to change at any time.
Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in California
Whether you need to send a notification of death letter to the credit bureaus or update family records, it can be intimidating to start the record request process. In California, the various privacy laws can make things even more confusing. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions to help make the process a bit clearer.
Can you get a death certificate for free in CA?
In the state of California, you must pay a fee of $21 for an authorized or informational copy of a death certificate. That being said, many records between 1905 and 1994 can be found for free online using ancestry research websites and online archives.
However, it’s important to note that these free websites and archives don’t provide valid legal documents for use. They are only for research and genealogy purposes.
How can you get a copy of a death certificate in California?
To get a copy of a death certificate in California, decide whether you need an authorized or informational copy. An authorized or certified copy is for legal processes, like accessing benefits. On the other hand, an informational copy is only for family records and general information purposes.
Follow the steps above to order your death record online, by mail, or in person. You don’t need to be related to the deceased or have authorization to receive an informational copy.
How long does it take to get a death certificate?
The current processing time in California is between 10 and 12 weeks for all methods of request. You can check the state’s processing times on their website for the most up-to-date information.
Order a California Vital Record
Vital records are used for a number of purposes, from family tree research to closing accounts. Whether you’re assisting a family member in their final affairs or you simply have questions about the past, you can access these vital records in the state of California.
Before you begin your request, read through the steps above. Also, make sure to proofread! Mistakes may slow down your request. With current processing times up to 12 weeks, review your application carefully to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.