After a person dies, the government issues a death certificate recording the event. The next of kin will need certified copies of it to handle financial and legal matters on behalf of the deceased. It is important to know where to present these documents and how to request additional certificates.
What Is a Death Certificate?
It is an official document issued by the government stating the time, place, and cause of death of an individual. Death certificates serve as proof of an official death for legal purposes and are used to close the estate of the deceased. They are also used by the government to compile vital statistics on the population.
As a general rule, you should request between five and ten certified copies of the death certificate. They will be required for the following situations:
- dispose of the deceased
- granting the Executor of the Estate or another close relative access to financial accounts and assets
- transfer ownership of vehicles, real estate, and other property
- if there is an ongoing investigation into the death of an individual
- to file life insurance claims
- certificate to keep receiving pension or Medicaid benefits
- to notify creditors or mortgage lenders.
Who Can Obtain a Death Certificate?
You can obtain a death certificate if you are the:
- legal representative
- sibling of the deceased
If you are requesting an official copy, you will likely need information that proves your relationship to the deceased, such as a marriage certificate or birth certificate. Legal representatives must provide documentation if they are acting on behalf of the deceased.
In some states, death certificates are considered public records and are available to anyone. Therefore, you should consult the specific laws of the state for the exact requirements.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate
It can take two to four weeks for an official death certificate to be issued. While the initial registration must be made within 72 hours of the death, several administrative steps are required to verify the information.
How to Get a Death Certificate
How you get copies depends on whether the person died in the U.S. or abroad.
Death in the U.S.:
When the person died in the U.S., you need to contact the vital records office of the state where the death occurred to learn about
- how to order a certified copy of a death certificate online, by mail or in person
- how to get a copy fast
- the cost for each certified copy.
When a U.S. citizen dies in another country, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate should receive a death certificate or notification from the foreign government. It will then issue a Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRDA). The CRDA can be used, for example, as proof of death for closing accounts and completing legal tasks. 20 copies are free, and more can be ordered from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Written in collaboration with Natalie Efiamarho