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Death certificates: a little knowledge reduces stress

Coping with loss is one of the hardest events an individual must face in his or her lifetime. If you have experienced the death of a spouse, child, or other loved one, you not only face the emotional devastation of your loss, but you must also handle the practical aspects of death. Making funeral arrangements, collecting on a life insurance policy and filing and obtaining a death certificate are just a few of the affairs that must be attended to. This can be overwhelming, even if you have dealt with the death of a loved one before.

To alleviate additional stress caused by tending to the "business" details of a loved one's death, it is important to become knowledgeable beforehand. One of the first tasks that must be accomplished is filing and obtaining a death certificate.

How do you file and obtain a death certificate?

The completion and submission of the death certificate forms to the Bureau of Vital Statistics is usually handled by the funeral home that will be overseeing the burial or cremation. Information from you is needed before the funeral home can file the death certificate. To make this process as stress-free as possible, you should have pertinent information on hand before proceeding to the funeral home.

Information needed to file a death certificate includes the deceased's:

  • social security card
  • occupation at time of death
  • address, including county and zip code
  • surviving spouse's name
  • parent's names, including mother's maiden name
  • place of burial, including cemetery section, lot and space.

If cremation is involved, or the body donated, this must also be noted.

Make sure you have the information on file

This information might appear to be common knowledge, especially if it is your spouse who has died. However, your husband or wife's mother's maiden name may not be known. This could be cumbersome to obtain, especially if both parents are deceased.

It is crucial to have this information on file for two important reasons. First, it can delay filing of the death certificate if the information is not available. Second, if incorrect information is given, it will delay the process further, as an amended death certificate will need to be filed.

The funeral home tending to the burial or cremation will usually provide certified copies of the death certificate as part of their fee. This will allow you to handle affairs such as settling the estate, collecting on a life insurance policy or terminating or receiving government services.

What if you need additional copies of the death certificate?

If you want a certified copy of a death certificate after it has been filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, you must contact the office in the state where your loved one died. Each state has its own requirements to obtain a copy of a death certificate. This information can be obtained on-line or by calling the office of Vital Statistics. To obtain a death certificate there is a fee, which varies from state to state. Additional copies can be requested for an additional charge.

Who can request a death certificate?

In the United States, death certificates can be obtained on anyone, regardless of the requestor's relationship to the deceased. However, many states, such as California, are attempting to stop the illegal use of death certificates by passing laws to change the way certified copies of death certificates are issued. Certified copies of a death certificate can only be released to:

  • a parent or legal guardian,
  • an individual entitled to obtain a copy by a court order
  • a law enforcement or other governmental agency that is conducting official business
  • a child, grandparent, sister, brother, or spouse, or
  • an attorney who represents the deceased or the estate.
The essential points once again

The death of a loved one is a devastating event. Not only must you cope with the emotional impact of your loss, but you may be responsible for dealing with the business aspects of the death. In order to make filing and obtaining a death certificate as stress free as possible, it is crucial to have pertinent information on file. This will not only make the process of filing a death certificate less stressful, but will enable the death certificate to be filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in a timely manner. It is also important to review the death certificate before it is filed to ensure that all information is correct. If erroneous information is entered, then an amended death certificate would need to be filed. When coping with the death of a loved one, additional difficulties should be averted if possible.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Practical matters following a death section helpful too.

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