The death of a family member gets ranked as the most stressful life event to experience. Along with a long grieving process, there are also funeral arrangements that need to get made. As well as arranging for personal and financial matters for the deceased. 

After the loss of a loved one, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to present a death certificate. So how do you go about getting this official document?

Read on to learn the legal purpose of this certificate and the process of getting a copy. 

What Is a Death Certificate?

Death certificates offer proof of death and are often one of the first steps to take when someone passes. This certificate stands as official documentation that gets authenticated by the government. 

It’s a record that contains important information about the deceased. This includes details like the reason for death. It also states where and when the death occurred.

Death certificates also act as important vital records for each state. This information then gets used by the government and public health officials. It helps to determine important statistics for the main causes of death in America.  

Death certificates keep track of mortality rates, showing the place a person died. For example, the state of Mississippi has the highest death rate in the country. 

In certain states, these documents get considered a public record. This means it can get requested by any individual.

Other states only allow you to get a death certificate if you’re related to the deceased. A sibling, parents, or spouse can request the certificate. This can also be someone acting as a legal representative on behalf of the deceased.  

When Do You Need a Death Certificate?

A death certificate gets needed in legal situations which involve the deceased person. It’s a way to show proper documentation to arrange plans for the assets of the deceased. 

This includes settling life insurance policies, pensions, and other benefits. Death certificate uses may also relate to property rights. They get needed for title transfers for vehicles and real estate.

Other situations include closing financial accounts, both personal and business related. They also allow you to access safe deposit boxes and file tax returns for the deceased. 

Death certificates get needed when a spouse passes away and there are plans to get remarried. You’ll also likely need this certification to make insurance claims for funeral arrangements. 

Death certificates may also come up in the case of a possible murder investigation. They can be an important piece of evidence to prove the cause of death. 

It’s best to ask for a handful of copies of the death certificate for various legal needs. Most people do not need more than 10 certified copies. You may even be able to use a photocopy version for certain services, like the DMV.

For each copy requested, you’ll need to pay a fee. The death certificate cost will vary by state.

How Do You Get a Death Certificate? 

How to get a death certificate often begins with a funeral home. You can also go through the state vital records office where the deceased lived. Others choose to use a third-party provider that offers online services.  

Start by contacting the funeral director who holds the remains of the deceased. You want to ensure they have all the correct information to prepare the certificate.

You’ll likely need to provide them with personal information of the deceased. The death certificate often includes details like:

  • The name of the deceased 
  • Their birthday and place of birth
  • Their last known address
  • Their cause of death and where it occurred
  • The names and details of their surviving family members, including a spouse
  • Their social security number 
  • Their education or military background

This process will likely go along with requesting a permit to bury or cremate the deceased. You’ll also need a certificate to transport the body or human remains. 

They will also need to get a signature from a medical professional. This most likely will be the responsibility of the person who examined the body. Coroners or medical examiners authenticate about 20% of all death certificates

This is to authenticate the identity of the person who passed away. It also states the reason for death. Then all this information gets passed on to the state for processing.

Be aware that you will need to show proper documentation to certify the relationship with the deceased. This may be a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or photo ID in some cases. An attorney needs to show legal documentation, like a court order.  

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate? 

A funeral home or cremation service only has a certain amount of time to file the death certificate. Most state records must get sent in within 10 days from the time of death. 

Once filed, it can take a couple of days, or longer to get your copies. Yet, some states can provide copies on the same day. Here you can learn more about the timeline for getting a death certificate. 

Timing also depends on the circumstances of the death. It also involves the turnaround times of the state the person lived in. Ongoing investigations often involve a longer timeframe to produce a certificate of death. 

What to Do After Getting the Death Certificate? 

Once you get the death certificate, be sure to look it over for any errors. It’s easy for these to happen as a result of misinformation or human error.

Many companies also use software to help keep track of death records. So, this can also let in more room for mistakes. 

It’s especially important to look over all details before submitting the certificate. This ensures a smoother and quicker process for handling the assets of the deceased. 

You may not be able to do much to speed up the initial process, as it depends on the state you’re working with. Yet, having the correct information will keep the process from taking too long. 

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