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What is a death certificate?


What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is a document that certifies that a person is deceased. The death certificate validates what the cause of death was as well as the identity of the deceased individual. The cause of death is two parts which includes the chain of events leading up to the death and the significant conditions contributing to the death.

U.S. Standard Certificate of Death

Why is a death certificate important?

Death certificates are important for several reasons. The most important reason is that the disposition of the deceased cannot take place without a death certificate. The death certificate must be signed by the attending physician or a family physician that is familiar with health history of the deceased.

Death certificates are important for several reasons. It serves as the legal proof that an individual has died. Families use death certificates to settle the affairs of the deceased. State and federal governments use a death certificate to stop the release of social security and pension benefits. The death certificate is required by insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions in order to release information and/or funds.

Who fills out the death certificate?

The death certificate must be signed by the attending physician or coroner in order for the body to be released to the funeral home. At that point, the funeral director completes any remaining personal information such as age, address, family information, etc.

How is the death certificate registered?

Once the death certificate form is complete and signed by the funeral director it is registered at the Department of Vital Statistics. Funeral homes cannot give family members copies of the death certificate.

How do I obtain a copy of a death certificate?

You can obtain a copy of the death certificate by writing or visiting the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred. If writing, your letter should include:

  • Date of request
  • Full name of the deceased
  • Sex of the deceased
  • Date and place of death (city, county, state)
  • Your relationship to the deceased
  • Why you need the death certificate
  • Your name and address
  • Your drivers license number and state it was issued in
  • Your signature

Also include a self addressed stamped envelope with your request and many states also charge a nominal fee for the record.

For more information on where to mail your request and for individual state guidelines:

What happens to the information on the death certificate? Where does it go?

Once the death certificate is recorded by the Department of Vital Statistics, it is purchased by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The NCHS compiles mortality data to provide statistics that helps to guide policies that will improve the health of Americans.

How do I get a death certificate changed?

There are instances when a death certificate needs to be changed such as when there is dispute over how the deceased died. This can take months if not years to get amended by the CDC.