Death Certificates: What You Need to Know

Death Certificates: What You Need to Know

Many of the families we work with at Science Care have come to our team with questions about death certificates, such as:

  • “Why do I need a death certificate?"
  • “How does Science Care help with death certificates?” 
  • “What information is on a death certificate?”

No matter where you are located in the United States, a death certificate is a required official document that declares the cause of death, location of death, time of death and other personal information about the deceased. 

What Information is on a Death Certificate? 

While the process for submitting death certificate information is different for each state, all states use the same form, the U.S. Standardized Certificate of Death.

Death certificates need to be filed within several days of death, and state law indicates who is eligible to complete the necessary documents. Each death certificate is separated into three sections. You can view a copy of a standard death certificate here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/DEATH11-03final-acc.pdf.

Section 1 

The first section of a death certificate collects identifying information such as name, age, address and information about the informant.



Section 2

The second section of a death certificate collects any information related to cause of death. This can include diseases, injuries, substance use, complications and other details that directly correlate to the death. 

Section 3

The last section of a death certificate collects details on education, race, occupation and other related details. 

Why is a Death Certificate Needed? 

There are several reasons why you may need to obtain a death certificate:

  • Proof for legal purposes: Such as accessing pension benefits, claiming life insurance, settling estates, getting married (if a widow or widower needs to prove that their previous partner has passed), or arranging for a funeral.
  • Potential Investigation: Government officials may need the death certificate to review the cause of death to determine if foul play occurred.
  • Statistics: Public health officials compile data on various statistics, including leading causes of death. Public health policies depend heavily on the mortality data from death certificates because they are the only source of information about the causes of death and illnesses preceding death.
  • Burial or Cremation Permits: Prior to issuing a certified death certificate, authorities usually require a signature from a physician or coroner to validate the cause of death and the identity of the deceased. Upon the signing of the death certificate, local authorities will typically issue a certificate of disposition of remains, also known as a burial or cremation permit.
  • Final Arrangements: Crematories and cemeteries require this form before they will cremate or bury a body. In some jurisdictions, the form is combined with a transportation permit that allows the movement or shipment of a body.

How Science Care Helps with Death Certificates

When Science Care supports a donor family, our team provides as much support as possible throughout the entire donation process. Once a donor has been accepted into the Science Care program, our team will file the required paperwork for the death certificate. Once the paperwork is filed, families can order the death certificate directly from vital records in the state or county in which the person passed away or through a service such a VitalChek.

For more information on why you need a death certificate and how to obtain one, read our blog article here.

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