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Why Do I Need a Death Certificate and How Do I Get One?

July 15, 2019

When a loved one dies, the death must be registered with the state within a few days. The vital records office then issues copies of the death certificate – an official, government-issued document that states the vital information about the person who died. You will need the death certificate to handle the deceased person’s affairs and for your own personal records.

At Keohane Funeral Home, we take the worry out of filing all the necessary paperwork to request a death certificate. We gather personal information from family members and obtain the signature of a doctor, medical examiner, or coroner. The process must be completed quickly, usually within three to ten days, depending on state law.

Why is a death certificate necessary?

The death certificate is the legal proof of a death and there are several reasons why it is necessary. Death certificates are essential documentation needed to close out a person’s affairs, to claim benefits and insurance for relatives and spouses, to claim social security benefits, and to complete the legal requirement that the person’s death is registered. It may even be necessary to get married if a widow or widower must prove that his or her previous spouse has passed.

Public health officials also use death certificates to compile death indexes on cause of death, age of death, and other data. Public health policies depend heavily on the mortality data from death certificates as they provide information about the causes of death and illnesses preceding death. Other government officials may need the death certificate during investigations to determine if foul-play occurred.

It can take anywhere from one day to several weeks to get a death certificate after someone dies, depending on the state, organization, and cause of death. Many states require that you have a certified copy of the death certificate within 72 hours, unless an investigation is ongoing.

In order to complete a burial or cremation, most local authorities, cemeteries, and crematories require a death record signed by a local physician or coroner. This certification ensures that the disposition of remains is correct and that the person being buried or cremated is the one who died. In most cases, your coroner will issue a Certificate of Disposition of Remains at the same time as the Death Certificate. This is essential when forwarding remains to another country for burial. Many consulates will require an original copy of the death certificate.

In the case of cremation, state laws require a certificate from the medical examiner stating that he or she has viewed the body and that no further examination or judicial inquiry is necessary. Your funeral home or crematory will arrange for the medical examiner to view the body and provide certification for the cremation.

How Do I Order a Death Certificate? 

 Your funeral home will issue a certified death certificate at the time of death. It is a service that we are more than happy to provide for our families at Keohane to take some of the stress away at a difficult time in their lives.

But remember, in order to handle a person’s estate and close out their finances, you may need ten to twenty copies of the death certificate. If you find that you need additional copies, your funeral home will again be a helpful resource for you. If ordering additional copies through the funeral home is not convenient for you, you can also order them through the state or county in which the person died, or order copies online through a third-party company such as Vital Records Online.

If you order certified copies of the death certificate through the original funeral home or through the state where the person died, you will have to visit the funeral home or the local Health Records Office in person to begin the application. The online option can be done from the ease of your own home or office.

The cost of a death certificate depends on your state, but you can expect to pay $10 or $15 for the first copy. If you need additional copies, they may be less expensive if ordered at the same time as the original. If you’re serving as the executor of the deceased person’s estate and you pay for the death certificates yourself, you can reimburse yourself from the estate later on.

If you have additional questions about the death certificate or how to obtain one, please call us at 1-800-KEOHANE to speak to one of our knowledgeable funeral directors.


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