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!


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