Frequently Asked Questions About Death Certificates

After a loved one dies, there is, of course, a funeral or cremation to plan. Shortly thereafter, the loved one's next of kin generally also needs to take care of a number of legal and estate details. Resolving many of those details will require a death certificate.

A death certificate is an official government document stating the time, place and cause of death. It's essentially proof that your loved one is no longer living. You’ll likely need it to access insurance policies, bank accounts, pension plans and more. 

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about death certificates, including how to get one and how long you can expect the process to take.

How do I get a death certificate?

The funeral home or funeral director is responsible for coordinating the death certificate process, so you won’t need to navigate this on your own. If there was no autopsy, your Dignity Memorial® funeral director will gather the information to start the record in the state’s system. Next, a physician is assigned in the system to complete the medical portion and sign off on the record. Finally, the request goes to a state official, who will finalize the document, print it and send it back to the funeral director. This process may vary from state to state.

Why do I need a death certificate?

A death certificate legally declares a person as deceased. In most cases, you’ll need official copies in order to close out accounts and distribute or transfer a loved one’s assets. The following are examples of types of institutions that will likely need either a certified copy or a photocopy of the death certificate:

  • Banks and credit unions
  • Investment companies
  • Insurance companies
  • Title companies
  • Veterans Affairs (to receive military benefits or a veteran's headstone)
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (to transfer ownership of vehicles)
  • Credit agencies
  • Medicaid
  • Pension plans

How long does it take to get a death certificate?

The time it takes to get a death certificate varies from state to state, county to county and case to case, but it usually takes about two weeks. It could take longer in the case of any of the following:

  • An autopsy was performed on your loved one
  • There is a delay in obtaining a doctor's signature
  • Your county is processing a large volume of cases requiring death certificates
  • The reported data contains errors

Some states offer a convenient way to view the status of your death certificate request online. In the case of errors, an amendment process allows for corrections.

What do I need to get a death certificate?

Your funeral director will ask you to fill out a checklist of information for the death certificate as part of your arrangement conference. In most cases, you’ll need:

  • Full legal name and any maiden names
  • Place and date of birth
  • Place and date of death
  • Mother’s and father’s names
  • Social Security number
  • Last home address

As the person providing the information for the certificate, you’ll also need to give some information about yourself: 

  • Your name
  • Your relationship to your loved one
  • Your mailing address
  • Valid proof of identity

Lastly, you’ll need to sign the document. The funeral director will coordinate the other aspects of the certificate filing and submit the request to the state.

Who keeps the original death certificate?

The state and county where the person passed away keeps the original death certificate. When you order certified copies of the death certificate, they’re considered original copies. It’s easy to tell whether a copy is certified or a duplicate—a certified copy of the death certificate will have an embossed (raised) stamp.

How many copies of the death certificate do I need?

Some institutions will ask for a certified copy of the death certificate, while others will accept a photocopy. You will likely need a certified copy for anything involving insurance policies or property deeds.

Keep in mind that when you submit a copy of the death certificate to an institution, you won’t get it back. Therefore, you’ll probably want to order multiple copies. That number will depend on how many institutions you’ll be working with, but most families need around 10.

What if I need more?

If you find you need extra copies, you can always order more. Your funeral director can help you or you can go to the health department in the county or state where your loved one died and request copies there.

Many areas now permit you to order by mail or online. However you choose to request certified copies of a death certificate, you’ll usually need to provide identification and proof of relation to your loved one.

How much does a death certificate cost?

The cost of a death certificate varies by county and state. Depending on your state, you may pay a set fee for each copy or receive a discounted rate for additional copies. For example, in Texas, it currently costs $21 for the first copy and $4 for every additional copy. In California, each copy currently costs $24. The cost of the initial set of copies can be included on the funeral arrangements contract with the funeral home if you desire.

The loss of a loved one can feel overwhelming, but we're always here to help you sort through the details. When you plan with us, you’re not just choosing a provider, you’re choosing a partner.