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How to get a certified copy of a death certificate

Many organizations require a certified copy of the death certificate when someone dies. How you get copies depends on whether the person died in the U.S. or abroad.

Death in the U.S.: how to get a certified copy of a death certificate

Contact the vital records office of the state where the death occurred to learn:

  • How to order a certified copy of a death certificate online, by mail, or in-person
  • How to get a copy fast
  • The cost for each certified copy
You will need to know the date and place of death. The state may also ask for other details about the person, how you are related to them, or why you want the certificate.

Can anyone get a copy of a death certificate?

Only certain family members may be able to obtain a death certificate when someone dies. This includes a spouse, siblings, and children. But death certificates can be requested by anyone when they become public record. In some states, death certificates are released 25 or more years after death. Check with your state’s vital records office to find out when death certificates become public record.

When to use a certified copy or a photocopy

You will need to purchase a certified copy of the death certificate for tasks such as:

  • Notifying the Social Security Administration and other government agencies
  • Closing or transferring credit cards and bank accounts
  • Claiming a person's life insurance or pension

You may only need a photocopy for other tasks, such as canceling a subscription. Check with the agency or organization handling each account.

Death of a U.S. citizen abroad: how to get death records

When a U.S. citizen dies in another country, the U.S. embassy or consulate should get a death certificate or notification from the foreign government. It will then issue a Consular Report of Death Abroad (CRDA). Use the CRDA in the U.S. as proof of death for closing accounts and handling legal tasks.

You can get up to 20 free certified copies at the time of death. Order more copies of the CRDA from the Department of State.

LAST UPDATED: January 30, 2024


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