Consumer Resources



Complete The Form To Get our Free Guide "Survivor's Checklist- What To Do When Someone Dies"
Complete the Form

Death Certificates

A death certificate is arguably one of the most important documents for any of us: It’s the only legal proof that someone has died.

Death certificates are almost always necessary to settle the affairs of a loved one after their passing. You have to present a death certificate in order to access bank and other financial accounts, close social media accounts, request insurance and government benefits, and to authorize cremation and other funeral services.

Where can I get a copy of a death certificate?

It’s a common misconception that only funeral service providers can request death certificates, although obtaining a certified copy of a death certificate is often included in the cost of service.

Family members and legal representatives can themselves request death certificates and other vital records directly from state agencies, by mail or in person.

Rules on who may order death certificates, and the cost, vary by state. You can find out how to order certificates in the state where the death occurred by checking the state vital records directory.

Who fills out a death certificate?

A variety of medical professionals are qualified to sign a death certificate. Generally a physician, medical examiner, forensic pathologist, coroner, or in some states, a nurse practitioner, can pronounce a person legally dead.

A death certificate is then issued, and will be filed with local and state vital statistics agencies before being passed on to the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

What data is on a death certificate?

Most states follow the format for data collection recommended by the CDC. Information includes gender, race, age, place and method of final disposition, family members, and death information.

Death information is one of the crucial data pieces being collected, and can include information about the decedent’s national origin, education, occupation, and tobacco, alcohol, and drug use.

Classification of disease in the United States conforms with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, which helps track disease on a global scale.

Why does the CDC collect mortality data?

The CDC uses mortality data for a number of public records publications, and applies it in many other ways as well. This data can be found in a wide variety of products and studies, ranging from auto insurance premiums to the most effective time of day to run a suicide-prevention commercial on TV.  

As an example, according to the CDC’s 2012 mortality statistics, teens ages 15-19 were 4.5 times more likely to commit suicide than children ages 10-14. This data allowed policymakers to determine what time of day a public service ad would reach the most people in that age group.