Wondering what to do when someone dies? Whether a loved one has recently passed or you’re preparing for what may come after placing a friend or relative in hospice care, your mind is likely spinning from the numerous tasks you’ll have to accomplish once they pass. 

If you’ve never handled a loved one’s affairs after their passing before, you may not know how to get a death certificate. While you’ll still need to follow strict government protocols, luckily, the process has become slightly simpler in the digital age.

In this guide, we’ll describe death certificates, why you need them, the documents you’ll need to file, and how to obtain a death certificate online

What is a Death Certificate?

Before we teach you how to obtain a death certificate, let’s discuss a crucial question: What is a death certificate?

A death certificate—not to be confused with a pronouncement of death—is a document issued by a local authority (usually a County or State Health Department) confirming that a person has died. Death certificates vary in appearance by jurisdiction, but they usually list the following information:

  • The deceased’s legal name
  • Their age and date of birth
  • Their sex
  • Their marital status
  • Their last legal address and city, county, and state of residence
  • The names of any minor children
  • The cause of death
  • The names of next of kin

Once you file for a certified death certificate and the request is completed by your local authorities, you should request certified copies of the certificate from your courthouse or vital records office. While one of these institutions will store the original certificate for safekeeping, a certified copy will allow you to prove that your loved one has passed while you manage their affairs. 

Why Do You Need a Death Certificate?

Much like birth certificates and identification, you need to present the death certificate to process certain papers for the deceased. 

Death certificates are vital to accomplishing items on your end of life planning checklist after a loved one dies. Who needs to see death certificates when someone dies? You’ll need one in hand to report their death to:

  • The Social Security Administration
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs, if applicable
  • The Internal Revenue Service, which will require you to file a final tax return
  • Their bank, lenders, credit card company, or investment account companies
  • The local tax collector’s office
  • The DMV, if your loved one had a valid driver’s license
  • Your county’s Supervisor of Elections
  • The US State Department, if your loved one had a valid passport
  • Bill collectors like cell phone, utility, and internet companies

Most of these institutions will require you to present a certified death certificate (and also a marriage record in case the deceased’s spouse can receive benefits), your photo ID, and proof that you’re authorized to manage their affairs after their passing—like a copy of their will or a notarized letter.

What Do You Need to File a Death Certificate?

While requirements differ by jurisdiction, you should gather the following documents before filing for a death certificate:

  • A pronouncement of death – While not required in some states, a doctor or coroner completes a pronouncement of death immediately after your loved one’s passing, marking the time, date, and location of their death.
  • Any identifying documents for the deceased – These could include their birth certificate (or a certified copy), driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification. 
  • Proof of residency – In order to include your loved one’s last known address, you’ll have to provide proof of address, like a bank statement or a utility bill bearing their name and home address.
  • Form of payment – You’ll likely have to pay a small fee to file a death certificate with your jurisdiction. Prepare to pay with a credit card, cash, or check. If the deceased had a will, it may stipulate a reimbursement from the proceeds of their estate for any of the executor’s costs. 

How to Apply for a Death Certificate Using GovPlus

While learning how to find a death certificate, you may be wondering if you can complete the process online. GovPlus offers vital records filing and certified copy requests online in a few simple steps:

  1. Create an account and fill out a simple, quick application.
  2. Submit a picture of your photo ID and attach any other required documents.
  3. Monitor your progress as we submit and manage your filing application.
  4. Receive your documents by mail and via our cloud-based, secure document storage.

Instead of standing in line, dealing with understaffed government offices, figuring out how to fill out a death certificate request form, and taking time off of work to file a death certificate or order certified copies, GovPlus can handle all the heavy lifting while you manage your vital records request from home. 

We’ll submit your documents, communicate with your jurisdiction when needed, and alert you if you need to complete any actions during the process. We can also assist you if you need to procure an additional copy to settle other matters. 

Sources: 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Funeral Directors’ Handbook on Death Registration and Fetal Death Reporting. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/hb_fun.pdf 

Business Insider. How to Manage a Loved One’s Finances After They Die. https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/how-to-manage-finances-after-someone-dies 
National Institute on Aging. What to Do After Someone Dies.https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-do-after-someone-dies

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