How to Get a Death Certificate

When we lose a loved one, we are often presented with one of life's most difficult tasks: laying them to rest. At a time when we are struggling emotionally, we must find the strength to manage various practical matters. Aside from moving past the initial shock, we know there are things to do such as obtain the death certificate. But how?

How to Get a Death Certificate

In order to obtain a death certificate, you will need to visit the health department of the state where your loved one passed away. Depending on where they lived and what state you currently reside in, this step may be more complicated than it sounds. Some states have online death registration systems that can be accessed from anywhere within the country. In other states, death registration is only available by visiting the health department in person.

Whether or not you are sure if death certificates are needed to obtain death benefits (e.g., insurance benefit claims), it will be helpful to obtain one as soon as possible after death has occurred. Death certificates can also be useful for estate claims and tax purposes.

It is important to have your own identification documents at hand when requesting a death certificate. You may be asked for documents that prove both your identity and relationship to the deceased. If you are visiting in person, it might be helpful to bring death certificates of other family members who are already registered with this health department.

What Documents Are Required For a Death Certificate?

Some of the documents you may need to present in order to obtain a death certificate include:

  • Copy of your current picture ID, such as a driver's license, passport, or military identification
  • A birth certificate, marriage certificate, or other document proving your relationship with the deceased
  • A sworn statement stating that you are the executor of the deceased's estate

Why You May Need a Death Certificate

Shortly after someone has passed, families often gather at the home of the deceased. Phone calls are made. Important documents are gathered. Besides obtaining a death certificate, another early priority is to determine if prearrangements have been made. This will relieve you and your family of worrying about many outstanding questions, and it will allow you time to grieve.

One key reason a death certificate is needed is to settle life insurance policies. Most insurance companies require a certified death certificate before releasing life insurance benefits. Remember too that the proceeds may only be released to the beneficiary, his/her legal proxy, or the estate.

Another reason to obtain a copy of the death certificate is to claim social security benefits. One is the immediate death benefit of $225. The Social Security Administration will provide this one-time payment to a spouse or child of the deceased.

A death certificate will also be needed to access banking information of the deceased, cancel utilities and similar services, obtain certain employer benefits, or simply manage certain household bills; this is especially so if the bills are paid online or by phone and passwords cannot be located.

Two Events Which Require a Death Certificate

Although this heading may seem odd, a simple explanation will suffice. In one state, Florida, a separate and distinct death certificate is required for fetal death. Fetal death is defined as that which occurs after week 20 of the gestation period yet pre-birth. The intent of this law is to protect the privacy of couples and women suffering miscarriage. The Florida Statute 382.008(6) states that "all information relating to cause of fetal death, the parentage, marital status, and medical information included in all fetal death records of this state are confidential," according to

Otherwise, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories require a death certificate be issued upon the death of anyone in their jurisdiction.

How to Get a Death Certificate in Every U.S. State

Please choose the appropriate state below for contact information on where to obtain death certificates.

(334) 206-5418

(907) 465-3391

(602) 364-1300

(501) 661-2336 or (866) 209-9482

(916) 445-2684

(303) 692-2200

(860) 509-7700

(302) 744-4549

District of Columbia (Washington, DC)
(202) 671-5000

(904) 359-6900

(404) 679-4702

(808) 586-4533

(208) 334-5988

(217) 782-6553

(317) 233-2700

(515) 281-4944

(785) 296-1400 or (785) 296-3253

(502) 564-4212

(225) 342-9500

(207) 287-3181 or (888) 664-9491

(410) 764-3038

(617) 740-2600

(517) 335-8666

(651) 201-5970

(601) 206-8200

(573) 751-6387

(406) 444-2685

(402) 471-2871

(775) 684-4242

New Hampshire
(603) 271-4650

New Jersey
(866) 649-8726

New Mexico
(866) 534-0051

New York
(855) 322-1022

North Carolina
(919) 733-3000

North Dakota
(701) 328-2360

(614) 466-2531

(405) 271-4040

(971) 673-1190

(724) 656-3100

Rhode Island
(401) 222-2811 or (401) 222-5960

South Carolina
(803) 898-3630

South Dakota
(605) 773-4961

(615) 741-1763

(512) 776-5625

(801) 538-6105

(802) 863-7275

(804) 662-6200

Washington (State)
(360) 236-4313 or (800) 525-0127

West Virginia
(304) 558-2931

(608) 266-1373

(307) 777-7591


Frequently Asked Questions About Death Certificates

Why do You Need a Copy of a Death Certificate?

Death records are used for many reasons. One of the most common is genealogical research. Another is for financial matters related to a recent loss in the family. In fact, this is often the most pressing reason. Why? When someone passes, families are often unprepared. At times, money is an issue.

When this is the case, they may be expecting to have a life insurance settlement which will take care of the costs. However, it can take days, even weeks to obtain a death certificate and insurance companies will generally not release the funds without one.

Even when there is a clear beneficiary, the policy of insurance carriers is to have proof of the loss. This proof is provided via the death certificate. Also, whether the estate enters probate or not, at some point someone will have to begin settling debts and reassigning assets.

Banks will need proof of your loss; employers will need proof to release certain benefits; even some social media sites will require proof of loss before shutting down the account of a deceased loved one. Finally, just as some like to keep the obituary as a memento of their loss, others like to have a copy of the death certificate. It can help with closure.

The Neptune Society is dedicated to helping families avoid the sudden shock and lack of preparation that often accompanies loss. We hope the information provided on these pages is useful to you and yours when needed. If you are facing such a time and need our assistance, click here for additional important information related to the next steps.

Who Completes the Death Certificate?

Death certificates are completed by a joint effort between a medical examiner (or coroner or attending physician) and a licensed funeral director.

Who May Obtain a Death Certificate?

In all 50 states, immediate family members or their legal representatives have access to death certificates. Some states permit anyone to obtain the record.

In most states, however, a requester must hold a valid and legal purpose for obtaining the record. Still other states offer privacy copies which do not include the cause of death so that members of genealogical and other research organizations may obtain, though outside the realm of normal need.

Can a Death Certificate be Obtained Online?

Death certificates can be obtained online. If death records are older than 50 years, they become public record and may be obtained free of charge through various websites dedicated to genealogical research. However, if a requester is seeking a certificate for a recent death (less than 50 years ago), there will be fees involved.

If a website promises to provide a recent, certified copy of a death certificate for free, be very wary. Each state charges a fee for death certificates and to be of practical use to survivors, the document must be a properly certified copy from the state in which the death occurred. Every state charges even for a non-certified copy.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain a Death Certificate?

The length of time to obtain a death certificate depends on several factors. Generally, the reporting of a death occurs no more than five days following. However, the Public Health Department may not issue the death certificate until receipt from the medical examiner.

If the Coroner is involved, it may not be issued until an investigation has concluded. When death is by natural causes including disease, a death certificate is issued quickly. If there were any questions to be answered related to the death, it will take longer, perhaps much longer.

Is it Legal to Make a Copy of a Death Certificate?

Although some death records make the statement upon the certified copy that it is illegal to make copies, this is not exactly correct.

In the few locations where this still occurs, the statement generally fails to convey the proper intent: Most businesses and government entities needing a death certificate do need a certified copy. A photocopy will not suffice.

For general purposes, it is fine to make copies of a death certificate, especially when family members may want a copy for their own purposes, often sentimental.

Is a Death Certificate a Public Record?

In some states, the death certificate is a public record easily obtained by anyone making request. Others have strict requirements in place to restrict public access.

In all cases wherein the public can gain access, the document does not contain certain personally identifying information (PII) such as the social security number (though this is often needed to obtain the record). The only exceptions exist when someone goes through the courts and demonstrates a valid, legal purpose for making the request.

Is there a Social Security Number on a Death Certificate?

Starting in 1967, many U.S. states began using the social security number as a simplified way to index and look up the records. Because of concerns over identity theft, many of those same states later implemented tighter restrictions on who may access these records; others offer the detailed versions only to family members and authorized legal entities while providing edited versions for research purposes, such as genealogy.

Is the Cause of Death Shown on the Death Certificate?

Some states show the cause of death on the death certificate, but most have eliminated it for privacy reasons. In some states, such as Florida, two versions may be obtained; one showing the cause of death and the other without. Furthermore, most states do not restrict this information when the records are greater than 50 years old.


Please note that Neptune Society has provided this information as a resource to our users. To our knowledge, all information is accurate and up-to-date as of the date of publication. For clarification, please contact your local Vital Statistics office.

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