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Death Certificate Search

In the United States, death certificates are generated following a person's demise. In general, Death Records are created, managed, and issued by various Vital Records Offices at the state and county levels, and a death certificate search enables eligible persons to access these documents.

A death certificate is a legal proof that a person has died; it is used by the family of the deceased to settle life insurance claims, estate settlements, funeral arrangements, transfer credit cards, and close bank accounts. The government also requires it to stop the payment of benefits and related entitlements and collect data for vital statistics. Ultimately, the information in death certificates helps monitor and reflect social changes.

Based on the data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), over 3.4 million United States residents died in 2021. The primary cause of death was heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, accidents, Stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. The certificates of these deaths are retrieved when a United States death certificate search is conducted. These searches can be done online, by mail, or in person at state or county vital record offices.

What is a Death Certificate?

A US death certificate is a permanent record that contains information from a person's death record. Death certificates are usually printed on specialized security paper that has raised seals. Most states issue two types of death certificates (names may differ per state):

  • Certified death certificates
  • Uncertified death certificates

Generally, certified death certificates are confidential and issued to only eligible individuals. In contrast, uncertified death certificates are public records and can only be used for informational purposes. Death certificates include information about the deceased, their spouse and parents, occupation, cause and place of death, and informant's information.

Are Death Certificates Public in the United States?

Yes, death certificates are public records in most states in the U.S. These public death certificates may be issued to persons 18 or older. However, sensitive information like the cause of death or full social security number may be confidential. Sometimes, death certificates may be confidential for a specific period, in some cases, up to 50 years. Confidential death certificates are restricted to:

  • The deceased's parent, legal guardian, or spouse
  • The deceased's siblings, adult children, and grandchildren
  • Persons who can demonstrate a tangible interest
  • Individuals authorized by court orders
  • Legal representatives of the eligible parties

Can I View Death Certificates Online for Free?

No, individuals cannot view death certificates online for free. However, they can use the United States Social Security Administration's Social Security Death Index (SSDI) to view death information for free. The SSDI was created from the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. Requesters can find death records of individuals from between 1935 and 2014 on the SSDI platform. The National Archives and some State Archives Offices have online portals where individuals can view death records for free.

How to Conduct a Free Death Certificate Search

There is no free death certificate search provision in the United States. However, online portals allow individuals to view death information for free. Contact state and county vital record offices for details on performing free death certificate searches in the jurisdiction of interest.

Where to Get a Death Certificate in the United States

Individuals can get death certificates from the following offices in the United States:

  • State government vital records offices
  • Local vital records offices or departments of health
  • National Archives
  • State archives offices

How to Get a Death Certificate in the United States

Inquirers can get U.S. death certificates at the Vital Record Office of the state or county where the death occurred. Requests can be made online, in person or via mail. However, the requester is required to know the basic information about the deceased, including their name, date, and place of death, to facilitate the search.

In most U.S. states, certified copies of death certificates might not be public records. Therefore, each state specifies individuals eligible to obtain certified copies of death certificates. Persons who are typically eligible to obtain death certificates across most U.S. states include:

  • The decedent's immediate and extended family members (parent, spouse, child, grandchildren, grandparents, and sibling)
  • Funeral director
  • Legal representatives
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Next of Kin
  • Persons authorized by court order
  • The informant named on the death certificate
  • Individuals with a direct and tangible interest in the death certificate

Some states in the U.S. have online tools where requesters can order death certificates. However, most states partner with third-party vendors to provide these certificates through online services. Generally, online requests on third-party platforms come with additional costs.

To request a death certificate by mail, download the death certificate application forms from the appropriate state or county vital records websites. The application form, valid I.D.s, and necessary fees must be mailed to the record custodian office. Some states allow record seekers to request death certificates in writing. However, information about the deceased and the applicant must be provided.

Alternatively, requesters can visit the state or county vital record offices to request death certificates. In-person requests must be made during business hours. Applicants would be asked to fill and sign application forms and provide original I.D.s. The widely acceptable I.D.s include:

  • The United States-issued driver's license
  • Resident Alien Card (Form I-551)
  • Employment Authorization Card (Form I-766)
  • Employment Authorization Card (Form I-688A)
  • Temporary Resident Card (Form I-688)
  • Federal or state identification card
  • The United States military identification card
  • The United States or foreign-issued passport
  • Law enforcement employment I.D. (federal, state, or city)
  • Pilot's license
  • Veterans Affairs card
  • Medical insurance card
  • Private company employment I.D. card
  • Mexican voter registration card
  • Foreign identification with an identifiable photo of the applicant
  • Tribal identification card bearing the requester's signature
  • U.S. Department of State issued Border Crossing Card (BCC) – B1 or B2 or Visa

Most vital records offices issue a "No Record Certification of Death" if a requested death certificate cannot be found.

The cost of death certificates varies per state and county. Generally, there is a standard price per copy and extra fees for additional copies. In most cases, death certificates cost between $15 and $25. Payments methods for death certificates vary by state. Most states require individuals to pay for online orders via debit or credit card. Checks and money orders are required for mail-in requests. Some states allow cash payments for mail requests. Most states accept cash, money order, check, Visa, and Mastercard for in-person requests.

What Information is on a Death Certificate?

Requesters can find the following information on a United States death certificate:

  • Decedent's legal name (first, middle, and last)
  • Sex
  • Social security number
  • Age
  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Residence (state, county, city or town, street and number, zip code, and inside city limits)
  • Marital status at the time of death
  • Surviving spouse's name
  • Father's name (first, middle, and last)
  • Mother's name prior to first marriage (first, middle, and last)
  • Informat's details (name, relationship to the decedent, mailing address)
  • Place of death (Facility name, City or town, state, and zip code, county of death)
  • Method of disposition
  • Place of disposition
  • Name and complete address of the funeral facility
  • Signature of funeral service licensee or other agents
  • License number
  • Date pronounced dead
  • Time pronounced dead
  • Signature of person pronouncing death
  • Actual or presumed date of death
  • Actual or presumed time of death
  • Cause of death
  • Manner of death
  • Name, address, and zip code of the person completing the cause of death
  • Decedent's education
  • Decedent's race

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in the United States?

The length of time it takes to get a death certificate in the U.S. varies by state. This turn-around time can take days or weeks, depending on the mode of application. Generally, the fastest way to get a death certificate is by making an in-person request to the custodian's office. In-person requests are on the same day of request except for requests made late in the day. Mail applicants can choose to expedite the processing time at an additional cost.

How Many Death Certificates Do I Need in the United States?

At least 10. However, the number of death certificates to get will vary from case to case. The more offices/agencies that require notification of the deceased's passing, the more certificates are required. It is standard practice for agencies to require copies of death certificates. For instance:

  • The Social Security Administration would request an official copy of the death to release benefits to a surviving spouse.
  • Life insurance companies will ask for death certificates before paying out death benefits to policy beneficiaries.
  • The probate court will ask for death certificates for the will and estate settlement.
  • A death certificate is needed to file one final year of tax returns when a person dies
  • A death certificate is needed for title transfer
  • Banks will ask for death certificates to close the deceased's bank accounts or transfer them to the beneficiaries.
  • A death certificate will be required before cremation or burial services.