Posted on September 27, 2016 by Mica Matlack
Photo: Alan Crawford, Getty Images
When a loved one dies, you'll need to order death certificates to submit to certain agencies to shut down accounts or collect benefits. But how many death certificates should you order? Below you'll learn about the purpose of death certificates, typical uses, how to order them, and how many death certificates you should order.
A death certificate is an official government issued document that states the date, time, location and cause of death. Certificates were originally made and kept by churches, until 1910 when standardized records became mandated by law.
In addition to verifying the cause of someone's death, death certificates are used to track changes in society and mortality trends. Death certificates must be completed by a medical practitioner (doctor, hospice nurse, medical examiner, coroner, etc.) and funeral director, licensed burial agent, or person acting as such (i.e. family member). The medical practitioner completes questions relating to the cause and manner of death, whether an autopsy was performed, if tobacco use contributed to the death, etc. The funeral director, agent or person acting as such, will need the following information about the deceased:
Social security number
Date of birth
Place of birth
Address at the time of death
Surviving spouse's name
Whether they served in the armed forces
Father and mother's name (maiden included)
Place of death
Highest level of education
Usual occupation and industry/business
Many states are moving to an Electronic Death Registration Systems, or EDRS, for filing of death certificates. In other areas, death certificates are filed with the registrar and county health department. While it varies state by state, typically deaths must be reported to the local health department within 72 hours of the death and to the state within five to seven days.
Death certificates are needed to close accounts, claim benefits, and file taxes. For legal matters, an official certificate is needed while other institutions only require a copy. Check below for scenarios on when you will likley need an original death certificate and when a copy is appropriate.
Utilities and phone companies
Property transfer (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
401Ks and stocks (if managed by stock broker, only one copy needed)
Selling an estate
Closing a business
If you are using a funeral home, ordering them from the funeral director is the easiest way. If you need to order them yourself, you can get them from the county or state vital records office.
In some states, you can order death certificates through VitalChek, a website that manages records for many government agencies. They charge a $5-$15 fee per order.
Certified copies are generally only available to immediate family members, executors, and those who can prove that they have a direct financial interest in the estate. Informational copies are generally available to anyone who requests them.
Consider the number of different institutions that might need one; each bank, investment company, etc. and for each property to be transferred; house, boat, etc.
A person a modest means may only need three, while a wealthier person could need 10 or more.
The fees for death certificates are set by the state or county. Generally the first copy of a death certificate is more than additional copies. You can expect to pay $10 -$25 for the first certified copy. The local registrar or funeral director will be able to tell you how much a death certificate costs.
Whether you are stopping into your local county or city registrar office or ordering online, copies can be paid for with credit card or check, but not with cash.
Tip: keep your receipts, as fees for death certificates can sometimes be reimbursed from the estate if agreed upon with the executor.