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Losing a loved one is heartbreaking, and handling various administrative tasks—such as obtaining official death records—hardly seems like it should be on top of the priority list for a grieving family member.

However, because a death certificate is an official record documenting important facts such as the time and cause of a person's death, having this vital record is necessary to settle the final affairs of the deceased.

Fortunately, obtaining a death record isn't complicated. Let's walk through some basic steps to learn how to quickly obtain the certificate.

Preparing Death Records

Generally, preparing a death record doesn't take long and can be completed and filed by the funeral home, cremation service provider, or other agency or person charged with the deceased person's remains.

A death record must include a medical professional's signature (such as the doctor, medical examiner, or coroner), but the certificate's preparer can gather other personal information from surviving family members.

Death Certificate Information

Aside from the medical professional's signature, death records typically include applicable personally identifying information such as the deceased's:

  • Name and address.
  • Birth date and location.
  • Social Security number.
  • Marital status and spouse's name.
  • Parents' names and birthplaces.
  • Education.
  • Veteran's claim or discharge number, if applicable.
  • Date, location, time, and cause of death.

Using a Death Record

Because a death certificate is a legal, government-recognized record of death, it helps surviving family members complete a number of tasks, including (but not limited to):

  • Settling the deceased's property and money-related matters such as:
    • Estates (i.e. asset distribution, including finances and property).
    • Life insurance policies.
    • Insured loans.
    • Union benefits.
    • Stocks and bonds.
    • Credit card or credit union debts.
  • Handling motor vehicle-related matters, such as transferring vehicle titles and changing registration names.
  • Obtaining survivor benefits, such as earned Social Security payments.
  • Gaining access to various bank accounts, including checking, savings, and bonds.

Death records also are beneficial regarding genealogical research. Surviving family members (and even interested friends) can research death records to learn more about their family trees.

Ordering Death Certificates

Again, obtaining a death record isn't difficult; you may receive several copies from whomever prepared the certificate.

However, if you need to order additional death certificates, you can do so by visiting the courthouse of the county in which your loved one died, or by contacting your state's vital records unit. Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vital records information page for your state's specific policies.

Keep in mind, it's important to have numerous death records on hand. As mentioned above, you'll likely deal with numerous agencies that require death record copies, and depending on their policies, they might not return the certificates once business is complete.

Ordering Death Certificates Online

There are numerous third-party businesses that will obtain death certificates for you, and depending on the company policies, ordering online actually could help streamline the process because you'll only have to work with just one company.

Still, be sure your state allows the third-party agency to access death records—especially if you need a certified copy.

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