Death Certificate FAQs

death certificate


When dealing with the death of a loved one, families must navigate not only planning services to honor the deceased but also handle remaining financial and legal obligations. One integral piece of the process is obtaining the death certificate. We have prepared some common questions about death certificates to help ease the process. 

What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is an official document that proves that someone has passed away. These are important documents used for various purposes including settling estates, claiming life insurance benefits and closing accounts. Death certificates are also used by the government to track health and demographic trends across the country. 

What information is included in a death certificate?

A death certificate includes vital information on the deceased such as full name, date of birth, gender, marital status, and occupation. It also contains information such as the date, time, and location of death, as well as the cause and manner of death, if known. 

How do I get a death certificate?

A death certificate is issued by a government authority, typically the local county’s registrar’s office or vital records office. The general steps that need to be completed to obtain a certified death certificate are:

  1. The next of kin provides information about the person who has passed away.
  2. The primary care physician sends the cause of death to the funeral home.
  3. The funeral home receives clearance from the health department in regards to the given cause of death.
  4. The primary care physician electronically signs the document.
  5. The funeral home submits the certificate to the health department for registration in the relevant county.
  6. The death certificates are printed by the county in which the person passed away.

Once the death has been registered, death certificates can be ordered from three places:

  1. The funeral home you are using
  2. A third party tool, like VitalCheck
  3. The state or country in which the person passed away

There are two types of death certificates: informational and certified. Anyone can order informational copies. However, to get a certified copy, you must be the legal next of kin of the deceased or the funeral home caring for the individual. 

How long does it take to get a death certificate? 

At minimum, four parties are involved in processing the first death certificate, so the amount of time it takes to arrive can vary. However, it is normal for a county to take 2 to 3 weeks to process an order, and the state could take 3-4 weeks. 

The funeral home and next of kin can have all the information ready in a few hours. In general, delays are caused by primary care physicians providing the causes of death, the coroner’s involvement in the process and the county processing the order. 

How many death certificates do I need?

You need a certified copy of a death certificate to close any account or claim any benefit after someone passes away. 

The number of death certificates a family will need depends on the number of assets, benefits and accounts that have been left in the deceased’s name. Unfortunately, the only way to know for certain is to contact each organization involved directly. 

Here is a list of reasons why you may need a death certificate:

  • Social security
  • California DMV
  • Life insurance policies
  • Living trusts
  • Funeral advance funding
  • Bank accounts
  • Safety deposit box
  • IRS
  • Titles to real estate or other deeded property
  • Stocks/bonds
  • Annuities
  • Pensions sources and IRA-type accounts (union pensions)
  • Medical benefits
  • Credit card debt
  • Probate court/attorney
  • Permanent family and personal records   

Is there a fee for obtaining death certificates?

The fee for a California death certificate is $24.00 per copy.

At Green Hills, our trusted professionals are available to help walk you through the process of obtaining a death certificate and answer any questions you may have. Whether you’re planning your end-of-life celebration or arranging a memorial for a loved one, our caring, compassionate advisors are here to guide you.

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About Green Hills

We believe that every end-of-life celebration is as unique as the person being celebrated. We’ll help you create a memorial that honors your loved one in a way that feels special and authentic. If you’re planning for the future, our Advance Planning advisors will help you remove the burden from your family members and organize a ceremony that allows them to gather, heal, and reminisce.

To learn more about how advanced funeral planning can protect your loved ones, find out what to do if a loved one is ill, or just say hello, contact our team today. Celebrate a life well-lived in a beautiful, serene environment.