topic | first days after death

Step 5: obtain certified copies of the death certificate

Initial copies of the death certificate may be ordered by the funeral home or mortuary. Subsequently, they may be purchased through the county or state Vital Records Office. If an autopsy is necessary, the death certificates will not be available until the autopsy is completed and the cause of death is determined. 

Death certificates are necessary:

  • to claim benefits such as Social Security  
  • to transfer property such as bank accounts and insurance policies
  • may be needed to cancel subscriptions or change the name on the account such as cable television 

Activity 1
  Gather Information

The following information is necessary when requesting a copy of a death certificate.  Personal Information may already contain these details:

  • full name and sex of the deceased
  • parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
  • month, day, and year of birth
  • month, day, and year of death
  • place of birth or death - city, county, state, and name of hospital
  • reason for request
  • applicant’s relationship to the deceased

Activity 2
  Determine the Number of Death Certificates Needed

Individual death certificates will be needed for each financial account, life insurance policy, and property title in order to make changes. It is wise for the executor to keep extra death certificates for future use.

Add up the following to determine how many death certificates are needed:

  • number of bank or investment accounts including credit unions and IRA's
  • number of life insurance policies
  • number of pieces of real estate owned, either solely or jointly
  • one for passport cancellation
  • one for the cancelation of Social Security
  • at least one for future use 

Best Practices

Obtaining death certificates through county records rather than through state records may save you time.

An original copy of the death certificate is not always necessary. A photocopy of the certificate may be sufficient to cancel a driver’s license, voter’s registration, or to request a presidential memorial certificate. Request that companies send back the original death certificates once they have reviewed them for authenticity. Save extra death certificates for future use.

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