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Everything You Need To Know About Death Certificates

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Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be a very stressful time. While you may already be dealing with the grief of losing someone close to you, you may be surprised at the amount of paperwork that also comes with this loss. One of the most common questions we receive from donor families is, when will a death certificate become available and how do I obtain one?


A death certificate is a necessary legal document that is essentially used as proof that a person has passed away. In the following essay, we will discuss exactly what a death certificate is, why they’re used, what you may need one for, and how to go about obtaining certified copies.

What Exactly Is a Death Certificate?

Similar to how a birth certificate contains vital information about a person’s birth, a death certificate contains vital information about a person’s death. A death certificate is a formal legal document issued by the state that contains detailed information regarding a person’s death, such as: place of death, cause of death, time of death, ethnicity, occupation, and other details about the individual. Government and health officials often use this information for research and statistical purposes, such as determining the most common causes of death. However, these documents weren’t always around!


In the 1500’s all birth, marital, and death certificates were kept in local churches. Due to the number of births and deaths that took place in homes, it made it increasingly difficult to keep track of when the births and deaths occurred. Because of this, some people run into roadblocks when tracing back their genealogy beyond the 1900’s. Around 1910, the United States developed a standardized method of tracking vital records which included birth certificates and death certificates being accounted for by the state and federal government in a central database.


The creation and filing of death certificates is typically handled by a licensed funeral home. When donating through MedCure, the family or next of kin will complete our Vitals Worksheet by providing information about their loved one that will appear on their death certificate. Once this information is gathered and verified, the funeral home will submit this information through the county or state for filing.

What Is It Used For? Why Do I Need One?

The government uses death certificates to track crucial information to assist with implementation of preventative policies, research, and funding. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may use death certificates to track the most common causes of death and average life expectancy. They may also be used to track potential public health crises so that they can provide information to researchers and inform the public on preventative measures.
Although the death certificate is filed through government, your surviving family may need to provide a death certificate to other organizations for several different reasons, as listed below:

  • Processing insurance claims for life insurance policies, as well as home and auto
    Distribution of property – such as homes or cars
  • To receive a pension
  • To continue receiving
  • Medicaid benefits
  • Transferring or closing out bank accounts and loans
  • Claiming veteran’s benefits
  • Claiming social security benefits
  • Canceling cell phone plans
  • Transferring a trust
  • Changing the name of investment and stockholders
  • Accompanying a final tax return
  • Proof of Absence (commonly when assisting a minor with getting a license)
  • Closing a corporation or foundation
  • Closing utilities
    •  

Some organizations will accept a photocopy of the certificate, while others require a certified original copy. On average, you will likely need five or more certificates. We suggest speaking with the organization requesting the death certificate to ask specifically which version they require before obtaining additional copies.

My Loved One Donated, Can I Get a Death Certificate From MedCure?

When someone donates with MedCure, we provide one certified copy of the death certificate at no cost. The funeral homes we contract with, who assist in bringing donors into our care, file the death certificates through the state on our behalf. We will mail one certified death certificate to the family or next-of-kin approximately four to six weeks after passing. When you register for our program and complete our Donor Consent Form, you will designate the person to receive the death certificate that we provide. You may contact us at any time to update or change the designee, for example, from a spouse to an adult child. If you do not have any living relatives, you may designate whomever else may be handling your affairs, such as a close friend, caregiver, or power of attorney.

How Can I Get More Copies of The Death Certificate?

If a family needs additional copies, or needs copies sooner than we can provide, we suggest they contact their local Vital Records office in the county their loved one passed away in, or the Register of Deeds office in applicable states. Additional copies are typically available two weeks after someone has passed. In some states, you will be required to show proof of identification and your relationship to the deceased before they will issue certified copies; if you are not related to the deceased, they may provide you unofficial copies. Obtaining death certificates typically costs anywhere between $5-$30 per copy, which varies by state and county. Typically, death certificates are available in the county vital records office for up to 6 months after passing. If it’s been over six months, you’ll need to contact the vital records office of the state in which they passed.
See the following online resources for obtaining additional certificates:

U.S. Vital Records Office Online – listing of each state’s vital records office
Vital Chek – online express death certificate service