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A death certificate is considered one of four Vital Records. A death certificate, or a death record, officially records the time and cause of a person's passing.
Why a Death Certificate is Needed
A death certificate is the recognized legal record of death. It allows you to settle the final affairs of a loved one.
Situations that may call for a death certificate include:
- Settling an estate.
- Settling life insurance policies.
- Settling insured loans.
- Settling union benefits.
- Settling stocks and bonds.
- Settling credit card debts.
- Transferring ownership of property.
- Transferring the title of a vehicle.
- Obtaining Social Security payments earned by the deceased family member.
- Gaining access to bank accounts – checking, savings and savings bonds.
How to Obtain a Death Record
In most situations, the funeral home can order death records for you. Depending on your state and/or county, you may have the option to order certified death certificate copies on your own via your state's Vital Records office and/or a third-party office. The actual process will vary by state.
Generally, only immediate family members – spouse, sibling, child – may apply. But in some situations, the death certificate may also be available to other persons who hold a:
- Court order from the state.
- Document proving its needed for medical purposes.
- Document supporting their right to a claim.
When applying, be prepared to present identification. Improper identification will cause your application to be rejected. Fees vary by state. \
Processing, depending on state and ordering method – mail, online, in person – can take from days to weeks.