What is a Death Certificate?
With passing, comes paperwork. When navigating your loved one’s after life care, you’ll need to complete forms for a death certificate. Here, we’ll 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.
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.
Because of death certificates, we know that the official death toll from water in Flint, Michigan may be higher than what officials claimed because of a new study involving death certificates. Death certificates have been revised over time in an attempt to understand the United States maternal mortality rate. And most recently, California’s Death Certificate Project has been working to link overdose deaths on death certificates to the doctors who last prescribed for the deceased.
How are death certificates used?
Death certificates are mainly used for completing financial tasks after your loved one’s death. Basically, 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.
How do you get a death certificate?
Like many certificates and forms, obtaining — and filling out — a death certificate can take longer than we’d like. You may feel like you don’t have all the answers when completing the certificate.
Here are some examples of what may be needed for a death certificate form:
- Name, age, birth date and residence of loved one
- Time, place and date of death
- 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
- Name, relationship and phone number of informant
- Whether your loved one was cremated, buried, or donated
- 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 – the loved one’s family members, 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.
How many death certificates do you need?
The number of death certificates needed varies person to person – but everyone should have at least one. In some cases when you’ll need to use a certificate, a photocopy will be enough. In some cases, such as for title transfers, a death certificate will not be returned to you.