What is a Death Certificate?

Update: Solace is now Tulip Cremation, the nation’s largest online direct cremation services provider, delivering world-class and compassionate care 24/7.


With passing, comes paperwork. When navigating your loved one’s after-life care, you’ll need to complete forms for a death certificate. Most funeral homes including Solace Cremation will help you do this. But knowing about the process and what information is required can help demystify this end-of-life document and explain what a death certificate is.

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is a legal document that creates a demographic snapshot of your loved one when they leave this world. Death certificates include statistics and medical information pertaining to your loved one, including whether they were cremated or buried. They’re also required for transactions requiring proof of death, inheritances and registering your loved one’s death with your state. Solace Cremation takes care of filing and receiving death certificates. Costs vary from state to state. Death certificate fees are an additional cost you’ll encounter beyond our inclusive price.

Learning about life through death

When genealogists begin to explore a family tree, they often start with death certificates to learn more about someone’s age, race, level of education and marital or military status. These documents provide clues about what life was like for someone.

Death certificates can also help us understand the health of our communities and contribute to public health investigations.

Death certificates are also a window into social issues of our time. From revealing the true death toll from water in Flint, Michigan to understanding the U.S. maternal mortality rate, the documents bear witness to larger societal issues.

Reforms have been proposed to make sure that deaths in police custody are recorded accurately and most recently, California’s Death Certificate Project has been working to link overdose deaths on death certificates to the doctors who last prescribed opiates for the deceased.

How are death certificates used?

Death certificates are mainly used for completing financial tasks after your loved one’s death. In order to complete financial transactions, death certificates prove to another party that your loved one is deceased.

Death certificates may be required for life insurance policy claims, real estate transactions, transfer of vehicle or boat titles, cashing or transferring stocks or bonds, pension and retirement plans and closing bank accounts.

It’s important to avoid identity fraud and to settle debts by notifying creditors and credit agencies by sending them a death certificate.

What information is on a death certificate?

Like many certificates and forms, filling out a death certificate can bring some unexpected questions. You may feel like you don’t have all the answers when completing the certificate.

Solace Cremation or your chosen funeral home will handle the first two items on the list and will ask you to help provide other information so they can accurately fill out the form on your behalf.

Here are some examples of what may be needed for a death certificate form:

  • Time, place and date of death
  • Whether your loved one was cremated, buried, or donated
  • Name, age, birth date and residence of loved one
  • Whether your loved one served in the U.S. Armed Forces or a combat zone
  • The full names of your loved one’s spouse, father and mother
  • Your loved one’s occupation and education
  • Your loved one’s race and ethnicity

You’ll need to state your relationship to your loved one when you request a death certificate. Legally, only certain people can receive a death certificate — immediate next of kin, legal representative, people or organizations with a personal or property right or government agencies.

How long does it take to receive a death certificate?

Before certified copies can be printed and sent to you, death certificates are signed by the funeral director, medical certifier and the state registrar. The process can take several weeks, depending on state registrar timelines and the circumstances surrounding the decedent’s death.

How many death certificates do you need?

The number of death certificates needed varies — but everyone should have at least one. In some cases, an institution will just need to see the certified copy and make a photocopy of it and return it to you. In other cases, such as insurance matters, a death certificate will not be returned to you.

You can find additional information on California, Oregon and Washington death certificates on the respective state websites.

Solace Cremation or your chosen funeral home can also answer additional questions and help you through this sometimes confusing process.

Solace is now Tulip Cremation, the nation’s largest online direct cremation services provider, delivering world-class and compassionate care 24/7.

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