Death certificates - documentation

How To Get A Death Certificate

By: Tom Harries

May 14, 2022 | End-of-life Logistics

3 min read

Death certificates are very important legal documents that are required for several purposes after someone dies. Whether you are funeral planning now or just starting to think about end-of-life planning, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the process of obtaining a death certificate.

This article explains what death certificates are, why they are important and how they can be obtained.

What Is A Death Certificate?

In the US a death certificate is a legal document that provides the vital statistics and the cause of death of someone who has died. Death certificates are usually obtained for legal purposes including administering the estate, and dealing with taxes and other financial matters such as closing accounts and accessing benefits. They are also used for transferring the title of vehicles and property.

Death certificates - paperwork

The appearance of a death certificate can vary slightly by state, as can the process for obtaining one. However they share the same fundamental characteristics and record the same core information.

Some states, such as Washington and Oregon, have a long form and short form distinction. A long form death certificate has the cause of death printed whereas the short form does not. The short form is mostly used for transferring the title of vehicles and property and other purposes that do not require verification of the cause of death. Cause of death may need to be verified for certain policies such as life insurance.

How Do I Order A Death Certificate?

Before a death certificate can be obtained, the family of the deceased must provide the vital statistics of their loved one to the funeral director. The funeral director must then sign off on this information. Next, the medical provider must sign off on the cause and location of death. The final step is verification of the information by the county registrar, who then certifies the certificate as a legal document. Death registration typically takes five days.

There are two main ways of obtaining a death certificate. The first is through a funeral home, and the second is directly from the county vital statistics office.

It typically takes about two weeks to receive death certificates from the first day of the registration process, but the timeline can vary slightly. This allows for the time taken by the doctor to report and sign, by families to gather accurate information, and by the country registrar to complete the registration process. Once all of these steps have been completed, the death certificates can be ordered.

Ordering a death certificate

Death certificates are either mailed directly to the recipient, collected from the funeral home or collected from the county health department. It is worth noting that the mail system can cause some delay in receipt. You may be able to order a death certificate by visiting the county vital statistics office, but you should check whether pandemic policies affect this if your need is immediate.

Usually it is the funeral director at the funeral home who orders death certificates for the family. The legal next of kin will usually be the one to order if death certificates are being obtained directly from the county vital statistics office. 

Other kinship may be able to obtain a certificate with legal identification issued in the US. Legal counsel will sometimes obtain death certificates to assist with administering and closing down the estate, or parcelling out a will. Rules regarding who can order a death certificate and for what purposes can vary between states.

The cost of a death certificate varies between states. As an example, the cost in Washington is $25 per copy. It is important to remember that more than one copy will usually be needed, which will affect total cost. There are also minor costs in the form of convenience fees and mailing fees.

How Many Death Certificates Should I Order?

Families typically order three to five death certificates. This usually includes at least one long form death certificate which is suitable for most legal matters. If you have or will have an attorney or financial advisor helping you, they will be able to help with the exact number of death certificates that the estate will need.

There is a common misconception that more death certificates cannot be ordered later on. You can order a death certificate at any time.

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At Earth, we provide soil transformation services. Soil transformation, also known as natural organic reduction or human composting, involves the gentle transformation of a body into nutrient-rich soil. Families choose how much soil they’d like returned - to scatter or plant - with the remainder sent to local conservation sites for land restoration purposes.

If you found this article helpful, you may like to read more of our resources and read about the services we offer.

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