All You Need to Know About Death Certificates

Death certificates are used by a number of people and organizations as proof of death, proof of identity, proof of age, proof of marriage status, as well as tax records. In most countries a person is required to have a death certificate in order to apply for a passport or record the birth and death dates on legal documents such as Social Security applications. Death certificates may also be requested for insurance purposes.

How do I obtain a death certificate?

Death certificates are available through the office of vital records in each state or province. Application forms vary from place to place, however most forms require only the applicant’s name and address with their signature, documents verifying residency (driver’s license, utility bill) and payment. Most U.S. states now offer an online option for completing death certificate paperwork. This process is typically used by funeral directors so that all required documentation can be submitted at one time to speed up the release of a desired death record. (Learn more about what a funeral director does here.) Applicants who use this method must still submit official identification documents for proof of identity as well as proof of residence unless they have previously registered as online users with the vital records office where they wish to obtain a copy of a death certificate.

What information is on a death certificate?

The death certificate provides information about the deceased and the date, time and place of death. It also includes details such as marital status, occupation, education level attained (if applicable), length of residence at the current address (in years). If a death certificate is being requested because a person died outside of his or her home country, it may include information about the deceased including where they were born, what passport they carried, and who was responsible for completing the paperwork for burial to take place in a foreign country. In many cases, part or all of this information will be repeated twice: once as entries from left-to-right (for example as seen on an official identification document) and again as entries from right-to-left (for example as displayed on an Arabic computer monitor). In such cases it can become difficult to match up people’s names between different copies of a death certificate.

Death certificates are legal documents and vary from place to place as to what details they contain about a person’s cause of death. Some jurisdictions list immediate cause of death where others list underlying or contributing causes. Sometimes various doctors who treated the deceased during their lifetime review the death certificate in order to fill in all pertinent data onto the form before it is sent out to be finalized by an authorized registrar office representative. In many U.S. states, any mention of suicides, homicides, accidents other manners of death requires special investigation from law enforcement, the coroner’s office or another governmental agency.

How long does it take to receive a death certificate?

The time it takes to receive a death certificate depends on where the person was living at the time of their death. If they were in an area that is easily accessible by regular mail, then the document will typically be sent via standard post within two weeks. However if someone dies in another country, or in some cases even just outside of the usual city limits where they lived, then it could take months to arrive in the mail.

 Can anyone get a copy of a death certificate?

Not everyone can obtain a copy of a death certificate. Typically this document is not released to close relatives until all questions surrounding the cause and circumstances of death have been reviewed by at least one doctor, coroner or medical examiner. The next-of-kin are typically not able to obtain copies of their own family members’ death certificates, even if they are still alive themselves. Anyone who has lost touch with an immediate relative may be able to obtain a copy of that person’s death certificate through the office where it was filed originally. However these requests require payment in advance plus current proof of identification showing relationship to deceased. Some jurisdictions will only release information about children under certain conditions so it may be necessary to obtain legal advice before beginning any application process for a death certificate.

If someone is trying to obtain a copy of a death certificate then it will be necessary to submit proof that they are indeed deceased, such as a letter from the coroner’s office or sworn affidavit from at least two people who knew them personally and can verify their identity. In situations where parents wish to obtain copies of their children’s death certificates but the children are still under 18 years of age, written consent also needs to be included along with child’s original birth certificate. There may be additional requirements depending on the laws in each country and how much time has passed since the person died. For example in order to obtain an official copy of a death certificate if they were living outside the United States when they died, it may be necessary to order direct from the country in question.


Readinform is a Wisconsin based writer for funerals explained. They have come to understand the struggles of death and loss. Through life experience they have gathered the knowledge to help others and answer questions related to the funeral industry. When not writing readyinform focuses on learning new things and exploring the differences society offers.

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