How to Get a Death Certificate and How Long It Takes

Getting a death certificate can help with settling an estate, filing life insurance claims and other financial matters.
Connor Emmert
By Connor Emmert 
Edited by Tina Orem

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A death certificate is a document that serves as a legal record of someone’s death. Similar to a birth certificate when someone is born, a death certificate needs to be registered with the state vital records division after someone has died.

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How to get a death certificate

1. Prepare the death certificate

After someone has died, the first step in acquiring a death certificate is preparing the document. The official documents will be prepared by the funeral director and a medical examiner, coroner or certified physician, so you won’t need to worry about filling out any paperwork. 

You may need to provide personal information about the deceased to the funeral director, as they often work with medical professionals to file the death certificate with the state. While the medical professionals will take care of things such as time and cause of death, you’ll need to provide additional personal information about the deceased to expedite the process, such as:

  • Full name of the deceased.

  • Social Security number.

  • Last known address.

  • Marital and veteran status.

  • Last known job occupation.

  • Full name of the deceased’s mother and father.

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2. File the death certificate

Once all of the personal information about the deceased has been provided, the medical professional handling the death certificate will provide the time and cause of death and any burial instructions. Then, the funeral director or medical professional will send the death certificate to the state’s vital records department for processing. The timeline for this process can vary from state to state, but generally, death certificates must be filed within 72 hours of death.

3. Request a copy of the death certificate

Funeral homes can often provide you with a copy of the death certificate, as they usually help file it with the state. Alternatively, you can request a copy from the state vital records department directly, which may take longer.

How long does it take to get a death certificate?

Although the timeline can vary from state to state depending on local procedures, it usually takes two to four weeks to acquire a death certificate. This process can take some time because of the different parties involved. 

Once personal info about the deceased is provided to the funeral director, they will create the official document and send it to the coroner, medical examiner or licensed physician to complete the medical parts of the form and sign the document. The official form is then sent to the local state office for processing and registration. After the local authorities register the death certificate, copies can be made and sent to the decedent’s family.

Who can get a death certificate?

In some states, you need to be a direct family member, legal representative or executor of the estate to get a certified copy of the death certificate. Other states make death certificates a matter of public record but may differentiate between an authorized and informational copy. In California, for example, informational copies are available to anyone, but they cannot be used as valid documents to establish an identity for legal purposes. Informational copies may also have some sections redacted (for example, cause of death).

California Department of Public Health. Authorized Copy vs. Informational Copy.

There are some states in which anyone can request a certified copy. For example, anyone over 18 can request a certified copy of a death certificate in Florida.

Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. How to Order a Florida Death Certificate. Accessed Jan 12, 2023.

Why death certificates can be helpful

Death certificates are vital documents, as certified copies are required for many of the financial aspects that accompany the end of someone’s life. While the requirements for when you might need a death certificate can vary from state to state, the following is a list of situations where you’ll typically require one:

  • Settling the estate.

  • Filing a life insurance claim.

  • Gaining access to a deceased person’s bank accounts and other financial accounts.

  • Transferring any property (real estate, vehicles, personal property, etc.).

  • Accessing pension, Social Security or Medicare benefits for a surviving spouse.

Although losing a loved one is difficult enough, knowing what to do and where to go for important documents can help make settling an estate a little bit easier during an emotional time.

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What is on a death certificate?

Official death certificates include two sections of information. The first section is generally filled out by the funeral director (with the help of any surviving family members). This section mainly includes personal information about the deceased, including name, Social Security number, family information, occupation and last known address.

The second section is completed by a medical professional, usually a medical examiner, coroner, or licensed physician. This section will include things such as the time and cause of death and any burial instructions from the deceased’s family members. While this section is included in official copies used for legal purposes, it is often redacted in states where the death certificate is a matter of public record as it contains personal medical information.

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