When to Order Vital Records

Each state has its own policy for when it requires vital records, but generally vital records are required for government business such as applying for or renewing a driver's license, making a legal name change, and proving citizenship.

Read on for types of vital records, when you might need to provide one (or more), and how to order copies.

What Are Vital Records?

Vital records are government-authorized records of a person's identity as well as specific life events. Sometimes, a vital record will include information about other involved people, such as parents, children, or a spouse/ex-spouse.

Common types of vital records include:

Generally, vital records are maintained at both county and state government levels.

When to Order Vital Records

Because vital records serve as legal proof about a specific aspect of someone's life, they're an important point of reference for completing various tasks.

Regardless of the transaction, you'll most likely need a certified copy of your vital record to fulfill government requirements.

Below are some common instances which might require ordering vital records.

Birth Certificate

Most commonly, your birth record acts as a registration of your birth and proof of identity.

Those reasons might seem simple, but they carry big weight. For example, the government and other institutions often require a birth certificate when you:

  • Register for school.
  • Get married or divorced.
  • Apply for a copy of your Social Security card.
  • Obtain a passport.
    • Other travel-related reasons for presenting a birth record include showing your certificate when boarding a cruise ship for a destination that doesn't require a passport.
  • Complete various DMV-related tasks, such as:

Death Record

A person's death certificate proves he or she has died, and—among other vital personal information—includes the physician's official determination of cause of death.

Generally, surviving family members such as spouses and children need a copy of the deceased's death certificate whenever they need to:

  • Close a bank or credit account.
  • Settle an estate.
  • Activate survivor benefits.

Marriage Certificate

Your marriage certificate proves you're married, and you'll need this document to prove your new name if you wish to change your name on any other documents (such as driver licenses and Social Security cards) as well as take advantage of spousal benefits including:

  • Insurance.
  • Retirement or Social Security benefits.
  • Alimony, in the event of a divorce.

Divorce Record

Obviously, your divorce record proves you and your ex-spouse are divorced, but sometimes they also include other bits of information related to your marriage, such as:

  • Both yours and your ex-spouse's names.
  • Location of marriage.
  • Location of divorce.
  • Date of divorce.
  • Number of children.
  • Spousal support (or alimony) agreements.

Your driver license agency might require a divorce record to prove your name has changed if you apply for or renew your driver's license, identification card, or vehicle registration.

Also, some states require a copy of your divorce certificate if you remarry.

Obtaining Vital Records

Depending on county and state laws (or any third-party agency you use), vital records aren't that difficult to obtain.

Typically, you can write to your state's vital records unit with:

  • Your request for the specific vital record.
  • A copy of government-issued photo identification, including a signature.
    • Not all states require this.
  • Any applicable fee.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) vital records information page for details specific to your state.

NOTE: You can always visit the appropriate county courthouse for a certified copy of your vital record, which might even speed up the process.

Ordering Vital Records Online

Plenty of third-party agencies provide services for obtaining vital records for you. Sometimes, these companies help simplify the process and prevent you from having to deal with more than one agency.

However, before you order a vital record from a third-party company, make sure your state allows the company to access vital records—especially certified copies, if that's what you need.

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