Thinking ahead: Death certificates

4 min read

Important facts about ordering death certificates

  • Experts recommend obtaining between 24 and 36 death certificates, depending on the size of your loved one’s estate.

  • The easiest way to get multiple copies is to request them from the funeral home or mortuary while you’re working with them.

  • The fee for death certificates ranges anywhere from $5 to $25 per copy.

  • Most institutions will require a signed official copy of your loved one’s death certificate, so it’s best to order them while you are still dealing with funeral planning.

When someone you’re close to has just passed away, most of your energy will be focused on the emotional aspects of honoring your loved one. Things like the funeral or memorial, writing the obituary and eulogy, and taking care of your other loved ones are understandably at the front of your mind. 

Compared with these, thinking about things like paperwork and legal processes might seem formal or even cold. But addressing some of these things now can save you from a number of potential hassles down the road. The most important of these is requesting multiple copies of the person’s death certificate, a document you will frequently find yourself needing original signed copies of in the coming weeks and months.

The professionals you’ll be working with during this period, such as funeral directors, will be expecting requests like these, and they have set procedures and pricing for taking care of them, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by this part of the process

When and how to get them

A death certificate is a legal document with relevant information about the person who passed away. It generally has a county or state seal on it and is signed by the county coroner. To be an acceptable legal document, it must have the coroner’s original signature—it cannot be a copy.

Typically, the easiest way to get multiple copies is to request them from the funeral home or mortuary while you’re working with them. The institution that prepares your loved one’s body for burial or cremation is usually the one that prepares the document for the coroner to sign and then files it with the county. Thus it is a simple matter for them to prepare multiple copies and get them signed all at once.

The funeral director will be accustomed to your request and will most likely provide you with information on how much it will cost to order multiples. The fee will be anywhere from $5 to $25 per copy, but typically it won’t cost any more to order them during the funeral planning, as the county would charge the same amount to create and sign additional copies. 

You will be asking for a lot of these, but there’s no need to feel awkward about your request, even if it seems like a big ask, or an overly formal one. Remember, you’re dealing with professionals who work with people in your situation all the time. 

If you do not order them while you are still dealing with funeral planning and need them later, or if you do not order enough up front and find you need more, you’ll have to order them from the county, usually from the vital records office. This can take significantly more time, which might hold up the executor’s duties and unnecessarily prolong the process.  

How many do you need?

You’ll need copies for everything from getting a permit for burial or cremation to paying off debts to getting access to assets in safe-deposit boxes. For that reason, unless your loved one died without many affairs to settle, you’re going to need quite a few. Your requirements will vary, but experts recommend at least 24 for an estate that includes real estate or other property, and as many as 36 for larger estates. 

You will be asking for a lot of death certificates, but there’s no need to feel awkward about your request, even if it seems like a big ask.

This might seem like a lot, but rest assured that it is normal. A great many places and institutions need a signed, official copy of the death certificate. You’ll need one to access any bank accounts or safe-deposit boxes, to obtain benefits like Social Security, 401Ks and life insurance, to collect stocks and bonds, to file federal and state tax returns, to cancel credit cards, to redirect mail, to access rental storage units, to sell any property, to transfer titles on real estate or motor vehicles—and the list goes on.

It might seem overwhelming to be thinking about all of this while you’re only just coming to terms with the loss of your loved one, but it’s better to be aware of these needs at the outset and prepare for what comes next. Taking care of this one detail can save you lots of time and effort, freeing you up for the important things like remembering the life of your loved one and being there for your family.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.