When a loved one passes away, there are a myriad of decisions that need to be made. Some decisions require your immediate attention such as notifying family, making funeral arrangements and securing assets. Other decisions can be made a bit later such as taking care of the financial and personal accounts of the deceased. In some cases, the process runs smoothly but in others, it becomes complicated, requiring the services of an attorney.
The process of dealing with administrative matters after the death of a loved one all starts with one single document, namely the death certificate.
What is a Death Certificate
A death certificate is document issued by the state that details the date, time, location, and cause of death. A medical professional and funeral director sign off on the document, which also includes personal information regarding the deceased including age, address, birth place, occupation, marital status, race, surviving spouse’s name, and highest level of education achieved.
How to Obtain a Death Certificate
Check with your local or state vital records office to determine what the application process is in your area. The rules vary from office to office so be sure to find out the regulations specific to your area. If you want to order death certificates on line, visit the website VitalChek.com. Through their secure online ordering and application system, you can order multiple certified copies of a death certificate to be delivered right to your door.
How Many Copies of the Death Certificate Will You Need
No, one or two copies of the death certificate will not be sufficient.
You will need certified death certificates to claim the following types of assets:
- Life insurance,
- Brokerage accounts,
- Savings bonds,
- IRAs, 401(k)s, and employer death benefits,
- Real estate assets if it is held in trust,
- Military benefits, and
- Health care insurance.
Additionally, you will need copies of the death certificate to close accounts and file with these institutions:
- Credit card companies,
- Closing cell phone account,
- Internal Revenue Service,
- State income tax department,
- Legal representation during probate,
- Utility companies,
- Brokerage firms,
- Pension plan funds,
- Mortgage lenders,
- Motor vehicle administration,
- Creditors, and the
- Post office.
On top of that:
- Some states require a copy of the death certificate if the surviving spouse remarries.
- Copies should be sent to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to prevent identity theft.
It is important to note that not all of these companies will need to keep a certified copy for their records. Many of them, such as social security, credit cards, cell phone providers, DMV and some bank accounts simply require a photocopy that they will make themselves from the original.
Cost of a Death Certificate
While it might seem easiest to just order a bunch of death certificates in order to have them on hand for anyone who requires a copy, it is important to keep in mind the cost. Depending on which state you live in, death certificates can cost anywhere from $5 to $34. You can order them from your funeral director, the local health department or online. Typically, the first certified copy costs a fixed amount and additional copies ordered at the same time are sold at a discount. Consequently, it is cheaper to order them in bulk up front rather than go back at a later date and request additional copies. Please note that third-party providers like those found online charge a service. Many funeral homes will also charge a service fee.
How Many Death Certificates You Should Order
First, go through the lists above and determine how many death certificates you believe you will require. Then the rule of thumb is to order two extra copies in order to have them on hand for any unexpected requests.