How Long Does it Take To Get a Death Certificate?

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  • How long does it take to get a death certificate? Take a look at the process behind getting the certificate and what the average timeline looks like.

A death certificate is a legal record that's filed with the state's vital records office after someone's death. It's important to have several copies of the certificate on hand to settle the deceased's affairs. How long does it take to get a death certificate? The process involves a few steps that need to be taken.

What Is a Death Certificate?

When someone dies, their death has to be registered with the state vital record division. A death certificate serves as the official record of a person's demise and is typically prepared by a medical examiner. It can take a few weeks to receive a death certificate after a copy has been requested, which you can usually do directly through the vital records office or the funeral home. There also may be restrictions surrounding who can request one and what information is available to them. 

Besides providing legal documentation of a person's death, a death certificate is also crucial to closing the estate of the deceased. If you're the executor of the estate, it's especially important because you'll need to present copies when notifying government agencies or settling financial accounts. Death certificates also come in handy when conducting genealogy research or
filing a life insurance claim if you're a beneficiary. 

A death certificate contains pertinent information regarding the deceased. The information included varies based on state, but these are some common details you can expect to see:

  • Decedent's full name
  • Date of birth
  • Time and place of death
  • Social Security number
  • Last known home address
  • Spouse's name
  • Parental information
  • Last known occupation and industry
  • Medical examiner's signature

Is a Death Certificate Public Information?

Whether death certificates are available to the public depends on the state and what information is included in them, such as the cause of death. Some states offer more leniency than others, and you may be able to access an informational copy. For example, California makes informational copies of death certificates available to everyone. 

It's common in some states for a death certificate to become available to the public after a few decades. The exact time period varies depending on the state. Besides that, you must normally have a reason for requesting a copy and show proof of your relationship to that person. 

Who Can Request Copies of a Death Certificate?

Certain people can obtain a copy of a death certificate:

  • Executor of the estate
  • Immediate family members, including a spouse, parent, child or sibling
  • Government agency
  • Funeral director

Each state has a method of deciding who has access to a death certificate and what type they're entitled to, such as a certified or informational copy. Check with your state vital records office to find this information.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Death Certificate?

Before you can request copies of a death certificate, you'll need to prepare and file it with the vital records division of the state health department. Death certificates are usually prepared by the funeral director working alongside a medical professional to confirm the time and place of death rather than the deceased's family or loved ones. 

Take a look at the steps involved that determine how long it takes to get a death certificate.

Provide the Funeral Director With Information About the Deceased

A close relative or loved one of the deceased needs to provide personal details to the funeral director. This information can include:

  • The deceased's name
  • Sex
  • Social Security number
  • Last known address
  • Father's name
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Veteran status
  • Marital information
  • Job occupation and industry
  • Information about the surviving spouse

This ensures all information is accurate for the completion of the death certificate. 

Have the Funeral Director and Medical Professional Complete the Death Certificate

A medical professional, such as a coroner or certified physician, must provide additional information, including time and place of death and any burial instructions, such as whether the deceased will be cremated or buried. The medical professional's license number must also be listed on the request form. 

After completion, the death certificate is submitted to the county or state vital records office with the health department. The timeline of when the death certificate should be submitted varies based on local laws, but usually, it should be filed within 72 hours of death. 

Access Certified Copies

After these steps have been completed, how long does it take to get a death certificate? You can usually get a few copies from the funeral home that originally prepared the death certificate for a fee. For a certified copy, you can make a direct request with the vital records office and expect to receive the copy within 2 to 4 weeks. 

Depending on the state and county you live in, you may be able to fill out an online request and track the status of your application form. You'll need to show a valid government-issued photo ID and a document that proves your relationship to the deceased to request a copy. There's normally a processing fee for getting copies of a death certificate that varies based on state. 

What Can You Do With a Death Certificate?

A death certificate can serve many purposes. Since it's legal proof that someone has died, it's especially useful for the executor of an estate to have a copy to begin probate and settle the affairs of the deceased. However, someone may need a copy of a death certificate for many reasons. Examples include:

  • Notifying government agencies of the death
  • Filing an insurance claim
  • Notifying creditors and mortgage lenders
  • Claiming Medicaid benefits
  • Closing a bank account
  • Claiming pension benefits
  • Closing investment accounts

Additional Information To Know

Who Is Legally Responsible for Registering a Death?

The executor is usually in charge of registering a death. However, it isn't required that the executor complete the registration. Whoever is next of kin can also take on the responsibility. 

Do Banks Need Original Death Certificates?

Yes, it's usually necessary to show banks or any financial institution copies of a death certificate. They sometimes take a photocopy of it to keep on file. 

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