What You Need to Know About Death Certificates

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


The death certificate is perhaps the most important legal document in existence. It is an official legal record of a person’s death and is used by families as they deal with banks, insurance companies, government agencies and other financial institutions to close accounts and collect funds.

There’s also a collective value in the data gathered in death certificates. The information helps researchers track trends for health surveillance and conduct other demographic studies which can help identify risk factors.

There are other items on the form that are vestiges from an earlier time, for example, the death certificate lists one occupation, while many people work in various positions and industries over a lifetime.

The U.S. began gathering information on mortality by the 1930s and death certificates have evolved over time to address new issues and diseases.

Every state’s death certificate is a little different, but most comply with the U.S. Standard Death Certificate.

Information and timing
Though the forms vary a little from state to state, most will ask for information like name, address, birthdate and birthplace, education and marital status. Solace Cremation or your chosen funeral home will help you obtain a death certificate for your loved one, guiding you through what sometimes can be a confusing process. Solace will help gather the vital statistics and forward to the appropriate doctors to handle the medical portion, then order the documents on your behalf.

Death certificates usually take about two weeks to be processed and most families get at least one for their own records, but having a few on hand can help with business matters.

In some instances, you’ll need an original, certified copy which will not be returned. Other times, a photocopied death certificate may suffice. Many institutions, like banks and the DMV, will want to view the death certificate, but won’t need to keep it.

Who will want a death certificate?
Financial entities, insurance companies and government agencies are among those who will need a death certificate. Insurance payouts, pensions, taxes are among the 6 Reasons You’ll Need a Death Certificate, according to our friends at Cake.

Death certificates and social issues
Death certificates can be used by those researching genealogy, but can also serve as important tools in social issues of our day, like tracking police violence. Washington D.C.’s chief medical examiner, Roger Mitchell Jr. wants to add a checkbox to categorize deaths that take place in police custody.

Death certificates and COVID-19
Reporting on COVID-19 deaths has been inconsistent across the nation, though the CDC has asked states to count probable cases. And early deaths from the pandemic may have been misidentified on death certificates as patients died of related issues, like influence or pneumonia.

Important health surveillance tool
The Centers for Disease Control says modernizing death reporting is an important tool for health surveillance and can help expose issues, like the epidemic of drug-overdose deaths.

The CDC says death certificates are among the documents you want to store safely to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Learn more about death certificates in Solace’s FAQ.

Photo by Annie Spratt

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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