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Important Facts About Death Certificates  

When someone close to you passes away, dealing with the paperwork and legal process can seem rushed and formal.  Knowing what you are facing ahead of time can help with potential difficulties down the road.  Remember that a primary resource to you is who you are working with, such as funeral home directors, as they are used to dealing with these situations and possible questions you may have.  Feeling overwhelmed with the process is normal, but know there are processes in place to help you get through it.  

WHAT IS A DEATH CERTIFICATE?  

A death certificate is an official, legal document which lists the cause, time, and location of death. It has the seal of the county or state, and it is considered a legal document once the coroner signs the certificate. It cannot be copied. It must be an original document.  

WHY DO YOU NEED A DEATH CERTIFICATE?  

Many institutions will need a signed, official copy of the death certificate to serve as proof of death for legal purposes. The reasons you need an official death certificate may vary but may include: arranging for a funeral, claiming life insurance, accessing pension benefits, settling estates, getting remarried, obtaining Social Security benefits, collecting stocks and bonds, filing state and federal tax returns, canceling credit cards, redirecting mail, and canceling titles on vehicles and property. The list can be as extensive as the assets associated with the person who is deceased.  

WHO CAN OBTAIN A DEATH CERTIFICATE AND HOW DO YOU OBTAIN ONE?  

Public health officials use death certificates to compile data on various statistics, including leading causes of death. Government agencies, such as the police, may use a death certificate in an investigation of a death.  

States have different laws concerning death certificates. In some instances, death certificates are considered public domain and may be obtained by anyone, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.  In other states, only a legal representative connected to the deceased has the authority of obtaining a certified copy.  A legal representative would need proof of relation to the deceased (i.e. spouse, sibling, etc.).  Birth certificates and marriage licenses would satisfy the requirement to prove the relation.  

The funeral home or mortuary will order the death certificate for you. It can also be ordered through the state or county in which the person died. In addition, a death certificate can be obtained through a third-party company that specializes in this field.  

HOW MANY COPIES OF THE DEATH CERTIFICATE DO YOU NEED?  

The number of copies needed may vary, depending on the assets of the deceased. You may need a death certificate for a car transfer, credit card closure, safety deposit boxes, as well as for the transfer of other assets. Many people find that obtaining ten copies of the death certificate is sufficient for completing necessary paperwork and other tasks. However, if the deceased has a large estate that includes real estate or other property, it is recommended to request 24 or more copies of the death certificate.  

Often, the easiest time to request the death certificate is when you are working with the funeral home director. They are familiar with the process and the fees and can help take care of this while making other arrangements. If you later realize that you need to request additional death certificates, you can order them from the county where your loved one passed, but do be aware that you will have to pay additional fees. Costs vary by state and county but are generally between $5 to $25.  

 

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