death certificate FAQ

Death Certificate FAQ

Vital records play a huge role in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, most major life events require certified copies of vital records. Whether we’re welcoming a new family member, getting married to our best friend or saying goodbye to loved ones, important documents called vital records are issued to register these events with vital records offices. Today we’ve put together information about death certificates. In our death certificate FAQ we’ll discuss why you might need one, who can obtain a copy, and other pertinent information surrounding death certificates.

Death Certificate FAQ

Q: What is a death certificate?

A: A death certificate is a government issued vital record issued by a vital records agency. An official copy will come on special security paper, will have a raised seal or agency watermark, and will have the registrar’s signature. An official copy will be necessary for most legal purposes.

Q: What’s the difference between an official copy and a photocopy? Won’t a photocopy work?

A: When using vital records for official purposes, you will most likely be required to submit a certified copy. This means it must come directly from a government agency. As mentioned above, the official copy will be printed on security paper with the raised seal or watermark and registrar’s signature. A photocopy of an official copy will not typically be accepted by agencies or for legal purposes as it may be easier to forge or manufacture a fake copy.

Q: Why might I need a certified copy of a death certificate?

A: There are several reasons you may need a certified copy of someone’s death certificate. These reasons include claiming life insurance benefits, obtaining pension benefits or even getting married after your spouse’s death. For more reasons why you may need a certified copy of a death certificate, click here.

Q: How many copies of a death certificate should I get?

A: It depends on what tasks you need to get done, but you should plan on obtaining multiple certified copies. From insurance to pensions, closing estates and burial services, certified copies of your loved ones death certificate will be needed to finalize any legal procedures after their passing.

Q: What state should I order a death certificate from?

A: Death certificates are issued by the vital records office in the state where the death took place. 

Q: Who can order a death certificate?

A: Not just anyone can order a certified copy of a death certificate. The people who may obtain copies of a death certificate may be required to provide proof of their relationship to the deceased. People who are able to request copies include:

  • A legal representative of the deceased 
  • The parents, siblings, or children of the deceased
  • The current spouse
  •  A guardian with legal custody of a minor child 
  • A federal, state, or local government agency for official use only

Q: Where can I obtain certified copies of a person’s death certificate?

A: In some cases, if you’re dealing with the loss of your loved one utilizing a funeral home, they will assist you in obtaining the copies you need. There are a few other options for obtaining vital records if you are not dealing with a funeral home. If you live in the general area where the person’s death occurred, you can physically visit the vital records office to obtain the document. You can also write your request to the vital records office by using this list of locations from the CDC. Ordering online is also a fast, secure and convenient way to obtain vital records. You can utilize services like to order right from your own home.

Q: If I order a death certificate either by mail or through a service like VitalChek, how long will it take?

A: While walking right into the vital records office will give you the fastest turnaround time, requesting one by mail or utilizing an online ordering service will give you different results. It’s important to note that processing times are dependent on the agency’s order volume. If you utilize a service like VitalChek, your vital records orders are still fulfilled through the government agency issuing the record. It’s best to check with the agency directly or speak to a customer service representative to learn what the processing times may be.

Q: What information will I need to obtain someone’s death certificate?

A:  No matter the method of ordering, you’ll need to provide critical information in order to obtain a person’s death certificate. Be sure you have the following information when attempting to obtain these records:

  • The decedent’s full name as it appears in the record
  • The decedent’s parents full names as they appear in the record
  • Exact time and place of death
  • The reason you’re requesting certified copies of their death records

We hope this information was useful and helped answer your questions regarding obtaining certified copies of death certificates. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below!


  1. I placed an order April 19, on line, because it was to be so quick and easy, for a death certificate. I did not want to go back
    to the funeral home, Since I had already received there bill, and we were waiting for the autopsy report. I called the first
    time to check on why I had not received anything yet. The nice lady said they would check into it, and I would receive a call,
    as to the status of the order. More than a week later, I had not heard anything, I call back. They show that I had requested an
    status update, day or so after I called, and it had not been 5 working days since that time. to give it till the end of the week.
    Its Saturday, and have not received anything. So much for the Estimated processing time of 3-5 business days, for the order
    to be filled,

    1. Hello Pat. We are sorry to hear that you have not yet received your order from April 19. Please keep in mind that many of our vital record agency partners are experiencing reduced staffing and therefore processing delays due to COVID-19. Please contact us again with your order number so we can provide you the latest information regarding your order. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email

  2. Ordered moms death certificates on April 17/2020 and haven’t received them yet. Vitalchek isn’t answering the phones no matter what time
    of the day or night I call. I understand being short staffed by this is insane. almost 2 months
    order number 107672220

    1. We apologize for your frustrating ordering experience. Please contact us with your order number so we can assist you. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email

  3. I ordered and received a death certificate for my Mom regarding the death of her sister. However, I failed to order an additional certificate for my Aunt’s other surviving sister. You did not require a notary on the first order I placed, but now you are requiring the extra cost of a notary for this second order. Why is that? Did I fill out the wrong online form?

    1. Hello Abed. I am not sure why the requirements were different for the second order. Please contact us with your order number so we can assist you. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email

  4. Buenos dias: He pedido desde España un pedido de un certificado de defunción y he mandado numerosos faxes y finalmente documentacion por correo postal, a dia de hoy sigo sin recibir nada desde NY.
    Entiendo que la situación es excepcional pero tenían que hacer algo de refuerzo sobre todo si es por via telematica, fax o postal que no hay riesgo para la saludo de los empleados. Espero que se resuelva la situacion para todos.
    y que volvamos a la normalidad.
    Order Number 107965786

    1. Póngase en contacto con nosotros con su número de pedido para que podamos ayudarlo. La forma más rápida de comunicarse con nosotros es mediante un mensaje privado en También puede llamar al 877-513-6364 o enviar un correo electrónico a

  5. I am helping my cousin to get a copy of his brother’s death certificate. Donald is a high functioning Autistic with mental handicaps. His brother James Michael Richardson had a mental breakdown in 2006. he ran away from home, (Austin, TX), and ended up in Idaho. At one point the police found him in a motel. I do not have the city or the name of the motel.Another cousin in Seattle WA was involved at this time. She supposedly took care of everything. But she had no real information to give me. She said he was in Idaho. After the police found him he went to a wilderness area and walked out into it. By the time the search party started looking it started snowing so he was not found until the spring of 2007. At that time she had his remains cremated. I think she spread the ashes into the wind and did not intern him anywhere. As that would have cost money. His brother Donald needs to have a copy of the Death Cert. for business reasons. I have been trying to find out where James was buried and just today found out he wasn’t. I have all the information needed, father’s name, mother’s name, DOB, and what-not. Please help me out.

    1. Hello Kathleen. The death certificate should be on file with the vital record agency in the area where the death occurred.The agency can provide you with more information on their requirements for obtaining the death certificate.

  6. How do I obtain a death certificate only for information of how someone died? After 30 years of searching, my niece recently discovered who her father was through DNA testing and collaboration with her matches. She had a name and a few details from her mother as well. She is having a hard time connecting with his relatives and she wanted to learn more about him included how he died. How does she prove she is his daughter?
    She has all the information needed otherwise.

    1. Hello Shannon. You can start the process by contacting the vital record agency in the area where the death occurred. They can provide you with the requirements for obtaining an informational certificate.

  7. I have been waiting for my aunt’s Death Certificate. . I thought I would have received it by now ,She died in Cleveland, Ohio April.

    1. Hello Mildred. Please accept our condolences. Under normal circumstances, it may take several weeks for a death to be registered and a death certificate to be available. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many vital records agencies are working with smaller staffs and may be backlogged on order processing. If you ordered through VitalChek, please contact us with your order number so we can provide you with a status update. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email Otherwise, click here to visit the Cleveland Department of Public Health for their contact information.

  8. I just ordered my birth certificate and got the confirmation email but before I could print it out, it’s got deleted. So I do not know my order number or pin.
    Is there any way I can receive this information.

    Thank you!

    1. Please contact us with your order number so we can assist you. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email

  9. This is apparently the only way to contact Vitalchek without having to wait hours on hold. I ordered a death certificate about 7 days ago. I included the documents to show that I am entitled to receive my sister’s death certification. Since then I have received two or three emails saying I still need to provide that documentation. Thinking perhaps I did it incorrectly the first time, I uploaded the documents again yesterday — the day of my sister’s funeral service. I got another email today saying I needed to provide documentation. I tried calling and the message said due to COVID,, I would have a long wait to talk to someone. I just want to know what they need from me, but there are no answers forthcoming.

    1. Hello Frank. Please accept our condolences on your loss. The quickest way to reach us is by private message at You can also call 877-513-6364 or email I will also pass your comment on to one of our customer service specialists. If the email shown here is the same one you used in the order process, they may be able to find your order and contact you.

  10. I recieved an e-mail today that my credit card was declined. All I need to do is make payment. Is there a way to do this on line? I have been on hod twice each time for over an hour. I am in Chicago. My mother died in Arizona.

    1. Hello Joanne. You can contact us by private message at You will usually get a response in a matter of minutes. Once you are chatting with one of our representatives, you can request that they take the conversation off line to a phone call in order to update your credit card number.

  11. Hi, Can one still obtain a military headstone for a loved one, if the death certificate states
    ( was never a member of the military), but having the incorrect death certificate accompanied
    by the deceased loved one’s military discharge paper(s)? Thank you.

    1. Hello Arthur. According to To receive a headstone, marker, or medallion for display in a private cemetery, the eligible applicant must submit a VA Form 40-1330, Claim for Standard Government Headstone or Marker or VA Form 40-1330M, Claim for Government Medallion to the VA along with proof of military service, to request a Government-provided headstone or marker. Do not send original documents, as they will not be returned. You can visit their site for more information about who is eligible to make the request, etc.

  12. My Sister, Barbara Ann Serghini (nee Scharmann) died on May 2, 2020 from Conronavirus. I submitted a
    request for her death certificate on May 4, 2020. My request was returned for proof of relationship. I
    mailed the request again on June 19, 2020. We have her ashes from the State Anatomy Board but I am
    still waiting for her death certificate. What is taking so long and when can I expect to receive her death

    1. Hello Audrey. We are sorry for your loss. The amount of time it takes for a state to register a death and make a death certificate available can vary from state to state. You might call the vital records office in the area where your sister passed to see if they can provide you with any information.

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