Certified Copies of Death Certificates
If you are the legal representative, trustee or executor, it will be necessary for you to secure certified copies of the death certificate in order to wind up the decedent’s affairs. For example, you will need a certified copy of the death certificate in order to gain access to:
- Life insurance proceeds
- Bank accounts
- Pensions, IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement benefits
- Stocks, bonds, CDs and other investments
- Property titles and deeds
- Vehicle registrations, titles and transfers of ownership
- Home mortgages and other loans
- Other types of insurance (car, house)
You also may need copies to alert the decedent’s creditors and debtors of the death. Most funeral homes offer copies of the death certificates as part of their services. You should inquire with the funeral home to find out what its policy is and the fees associated with it.
The funeral director, with the aid of the medical examiner or physician, will complete the death certificate and submit it to the state's appropriate Vital Records office. If you receive a phone call or other correspondence from someone claiming to work for a government office and needing information from you to complete a death certificate, be wary — it is most likely a scam.
If you did not get a copy or enough copies of the death certificate from the funeral director, you can get certified copies from your state’s Office of Vital Records (a division of the state’s Department of Public Health). While death records are public records, meaning any member of the public can go to the state office and view them, only certain people are allowed to purchase certified copies of the death certificate. These people generally include immediate family members (spouse, parents, adult children) and legal representatives (attorneys, executors, trustees, powers of attorney). In some states, extended family members may be eligible if they had a direct relationship with the decedent.
In addition to meeting the eligibility requirements, you also will have to provide certain information to the Office of Vital Records as part of your request. This information may include the decedent’s full name, date of birth, date of death, city and county of residence at time of death, Social Security number and the decedent’s parent’s names, including the mother’s maiden name. You also may have to provide the name of the funeral director as well as an explanation of your relationship to the decedent. Finally, you will have to provide proof of your identity with a state-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license or passport.
Some states now allow on-line requests for death certificates. Others require that you go to the office in person or make the request by mail. You will want to verify your particular office’s requirements before making your request. The fees vary, ranging anywhere from $9-$20. Most states charge less for additional copies after you have purchased the first one. It can take several weeks to process the request and return the certified copies to you, so make sure you have given yourself as much time as possible to obtain the death certificates.
Preparing to Meet with Your Estate Planning Attorney
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