How to Obtain a Death Certificate in New York: Step-by-Step + FAQs

Updated

Ordering a death certificate for a loved one is a final act of care and compassion. It’s how you protect family history, close accounts, and handle someone’s final affairs. In New York state, it’s relatively straightforward to order a death certificate as long as you qualify under the state’s privacy laws.

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In New York, it’s important to pay attention to the location of death since each region handles vital records differently. Additionally, specific eligibility requirements and documentation are required for any death certificate search.

In this guide, we’ll share how to obtain a death certificate in New York state. This does not include New York City death records since these are available from the New York City Vital Records Office, a separate entity. To learn how to get a death certificate, read this step-by-step guide explaining each option below. 

What Do You Need to Get a Death Certificate in New York?

There are several reasons for needing a death certificate. Death certificates are used to close accounts, handle financial affairs, and keep accurate family records. Regardless of why you’re ordering a death certificate in New York state, you need a few things to get started. 

Most importantly, you need to prove you’re eligible under state laws. Each state has its own privacy laws around death certificates, and New York is a closed record state when it comes to vital documents. Only the following people are eligible to receive a copy of a death certificate in New York state:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Adult child
  • Adult sibling
  • Anyone with a documented lawful right or claim
  • Anyone with a documented medical need
  • Someone authorized by a New York State Court Order

Unless you’re an immediate family member, you need to show a documented lawful right explaining why you need a death certificate. For instance, if you need to access insurance benefits, you need an official letter from the insurance agency demonstrating this need. 

What documentation is needed to prove eligibility?

When submitting your application, you need to share documentation and identification. This verifies your identity, relationship with the deceased, and indicates that you have a lawful claim to the record. Any of the following will work:

  • Driver’s license
  • State-issued ID card (with photo)
  • Passport
  • Military ID

If you can’t provide one of the above photo IDs, you can also show two utility bills or letters from a government agency dated within the last six months. You also need to include an official letter, court order, or authorization document to show your eligibility if you’re not an immediate family member. 

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Steps to Get a Death Certificate in New York

In New York State, the Department of Health has death records dating back to 1881. Here are the steps to ordering an official copy.

Step 1: Choose your method

To start, choose which method you’d like to use to apply. You have multiple options in New York State, and they all require the same information, verification, and documentation:

  • Online: To order online, New York uses a service called VitalChek. This is the only third-party agency approved for vital records in New York state. 
  • By mail: Like other states, you can also submit your application by mail. You’ll need to download and print the New York State Department of Health form DOH-4376. Include your payment and proof of identification with your mail-in document. 
  • In-person: You may also visit your local Vital Record Office to complete an application in person.  

Regardless of who needs death certificates or your reason for requesting one, the above options give you a lot of flexibility. It’s important to note that the most costly choice is likely also the most convenient — ordering online — since there is an added third-party fee through VitalChek. 

Step 2: Enter information from the death record

Once you’re ready to begin your application, start by sharing the information found on the death certificate. Include the name of the deceased, their Social Security Number (if known), date of death, date of birth, parent’s name, place of death, the purpose for your request, and your relationship with the deceased. 

If you’re not sure of any of the above, it’s better to visit in person to complete an application or to complete one by mail. This gives you more flexibility to write a range of dates to be searched or to leave sections blank. 

Step 3: Share your information

As the applicant, you also need to share your information, including your address, mailing address, telephone number, name, and in what capacity you’re submitting this request. 

Regardless of your relationship with the deceased, include a copy of your photo ID or two forms of documentation if you don’t have a photo ID. If you’re not an immediate relative, include a copy of the court order or authorized letter. 

Step 4: Choose your number of copies and pay

Next, indicate the number of copies you’re requesting. In New York state, cost is dependent on the order method. Here are the different fees:

  • Online orders: Through VitalChek, the cost is $45 per copy and an additional $8 fee to the third-party service. 
  • Walk-in orders: If you visit an office in person, the cost is $45 per copy. 
  • Mail orders: Lastly, mailed applications cost $30 per copy.

If you pay online through VitalChek, you can pay with a credit card. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay with a check or money order for in-person or mail-in orders. Make all checks or money orders payable to the New York State Department of Health. 

Step 5: Submit or mail your request

Last but not least, submit your request or mail it to:

New York State Department of Health
Vital Records Certification Unit
P.O. Box 2602
Albany, NY 12220-2602

Be sure to include all of the required things with your application, including your payment, completed application, and copies of your documentation and ID. If you plan to visit an office in person, check the latest operating hours since they’re subject to change. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Death Certificates in New York

Whether you are notifying the credit bureaus of a death, or you wish to close a loved one’s accounts, it’s normal to encounter questions throughout the process. 

Ordering a death certificate can be tricky, and errors mean the process may be delayed. Here are the most frequently asked questions applicants have. 

Are New York death certificates public record?

In New York state, death certificates are not public records. They are protected vital records, which means you need to be an immediate family member or have a legal claim to access these documents. 

The only exception to this is records over 50 years old. In New York state, death records become public record once they’re 50 years old. They’re then made available through the New York State Archives

Who can request a death certificate in New York?

In New York state, you need to be an immediate family member or someone with a legal claim to request a death certificate. In addition, you need to show proper documentation and a photo ID to demonstrate eligibility. 

If the above isn’t true, you are not eligible to request a death certificate. This is to protect the privacy of families and the deceased. If you believe you might have a legal or authorized claim, talk to the agency about what type of documentation is needed. 

Can you get New York death certificates for free?

You cannot get a New York death certificate for free if the death record is less than 50 years old. These records are protected under privacy laws, and they can only be accessed by completing the application and paying the appropriate fees listed above. 

However, for records older than 50 years, you can browse the New York State Archives online for vital records. These are organized by county, and access is completely free. These records make it possible to complete genealogical and academic research. 

What are the average processing times for New York death records?

The fastest way to order a New York death record is online. These are considered priority orders and come at an extra cost ($45 vs. $30). The current handling and processing time for online orders is between 5 and 10 days, not including shipping times. 

Mail or in-person orders can take several weeks. The current processing times depend on the number of orders, and this can vary widely. For an update on your order status, you can check your application with the Vital Records Mail Order Status form

How are death records for New York City processed?

Though it’s confusing, New York state does not process records for deaths that occurred within one of New York City’s five boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx). These need to be ordered through the New York City Department of Health.

Like the New York state process, in NYC, you can complete an online application through VitalChek, order by mail, or visit an in-person office. The eligibility requirements are also similar. 

Order a Death Record in New York State

Ordering a certified death record doesn’t have to be complicated. In New York, you can choose to order online, in person, or by mail. While online is the fastest method, it has less flexibility and is more costly. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine which method is right for your needs and timeline. 

Before you begin the death certificate ordering process in New York, make sure you’re eligible and that you have proper documentation. From there, complete the step-by-step process described above. 


Sources:
  1. “Birth, Marriage, and Death Records.” New York State Archives: Research. Archives.NYSED.gov.
  2. “Death Certificates.” New York State Department of Health. Health.NY.gov
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