Skip to content
acquiring a death certificate

In 2021, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recorded over 3.4 million deaths in the United States. After someone passes away, a death certificate is then issued by the local government. These documents contain vital information such as the date, location, and cause of death for the deceased person. Acquiring a death certificate for your loved one, therefore, is an important part of estate planning. This is because death certificates play a pivotal role in managing the deceased person’s financial and legal affairs.

From burial or cremation arrangements to transferring assets and filing insurance claims, many post-death tasks require a death certificate for verification. However, it is common for individuals to be unaware of how important this document is, or how to navigate the process of obtaining one.


In many instances, acquiring a death certificate can be accomplished through your county’s vital records office. Vital records offices oversee the maintenance and issuance of official documents pertaining to important life events (such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces). Alternatively, the State Department of Health may also issue death certificates.

Most commonly, the deceased’s county of residence is responsible for issuing their death certificate. However, if the death occurs away from home, the county where the death occurred will issue the document.

To find your local vital records office, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an online directory to streamline the process of obtaining necessary documentation.

Finding a Death Certificate After Issuance

When searching for a death certificate, the first step is to identify the jurisdiction where the death took place. Once you’ve done this, simply reach out to the appropriate vital records office. You may then proceed to request the certificate, either in person or through an online request application.

Upon submittal of the request, you will need to provide the full name, date of death, and last county of residence for the deceased individual. Additionally, you will be asked to provide identification verifying your relationship to the person. If enough time has elapsed for the death certificate to become a public record, then proof of ID may not be necessary.

Most offices will charge a fee for this service, typically ranging from $5 to $30 per copy. Some organizations, such as AARP, suggest obtaining between five to ten copies of death certificates.

When Do Death Certificates Become Public Record?

Access to the death certificate is initially limited to close family members immediately following the death. Individuals like personal representatives, or executors of the estate and beneficiaries, may also be given death certificate access at this time. All others must wait until the document transitions into a public record. In many states, this is around 25 years after the individual’s passing.

To determine the exact timeline for when death records become public in your state, you can reach out to your state’s vital records office.


The official process of acquiring a death certificate typically takes two to four weeks after submitting a request. In most cases, initiation of the death certificate creation process begins within 72 hours following the death. During this time, the coroner or medical examiner collaborates with a spouse or relative to verify certain details. These can include the deceased’s Social Security number, birth date, and professional information. Afterward, the completed document is then forwarded to the vital records office.

Various factors may extend this timeline, however. For example, states that utilize paper filing systems often experience longer processing periods. Legal complexities can also arise, particularly in cases involving ongoing investigations.

State regulations usually mandate including the cause of death on the certificate. This means that if the death is still subject to investigation, authorities may require additional time to determine the cause.


Navigating the passing of a loved one is emotionally taxing, especially when faced with the multitude of legal obligations that follow. By partnering with an experienced estate planning attorney, you gain invaluable support during this challenging time. Let your estate planning attorney be a compassionate guide and assist you with administrative tasks like acquiring a death certificate.

Bromlow Law, PLLC and Laura L. Bromlow, are dedicated to the practice of Elder Law and Estate Planning. Our practice focuses solely on working with clients in these and closely related legal fields. Laura L. Bromlow is a Certified Elder Law Attorney with the National Elder Law Foundation. Bromlow Law, PLLC strives to enhance communication among family members and loved ones and to keep them all out of conflict so they can stay out of court. We want to help you keep your close circle safe!

Please contact our office today at (281) 665-3807 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

Back To Top