Obtaining A Death Certificate

William Sweeney

HOW DO I OBTAIN A CALIFORNIA DEATH CERTIFICATE?

To obtain a copy of any of a death certificate in the United States, write or go to the vital statistics office in the state or area where the event occurred. As of July 1, 2003, California State Law (SB 247) changed the process in which certified copies are issued. This law was passed in order to protect against identity theft. In short the law states that:

"...if a certified copy is ordered by mail we will require a notarized sworn statement unless an information copy is desired in which case we will not require a notarized sworn statement.."

California State Vital Records Office Information:

California Dept of Health Services
Vital Records - M.S. 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899
(916) 445-1719 or (916) 445-2684
Fax: (800) 858-5553

You can obtain detailed information on obtaining death certificates at: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/Documents/Death-2014.pdf

California County offices have limited personnel and are often swamped with paper work. Genealogical queries are done as a service which is outside of their realm of responsibility. They ask therefore that you exercise patience and courtesy in your transactions with their offices.

California law defines individuals who can obtain an authorized copy of a death certificate as:

  • The registrant (person listed on the certificate) or a parent or legal guardian of the registrant. A child, grandparent, grandchild, brother or sister, spouse, or domestic partner of the registrant.
  • A member of a law enforcement agency or a representative of another governmental agency, as provided by law, who is conducting official business. (Companies representing a government agency must provide authorization from the government agency.)
  • An attorney representing the registrant or the registrant's estate, or any person or agency empowered by statute or appointed by a court to act on behalf of the registrant or the registrant's estate. (If requesting a Certified Copy under a power of attorney, include a copy of the power of attorney with the application form.)
  • Any agent or employee of a funeral establishment who acts within the course and scope of his or her employment and who orders certified copies of a death certificate on behalf of an individual specified in paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive, of subdivision (a) of Section 7100 of the Health and Safety Code.

To ensure that you receive an accurate record for your request and that your request is filled with all due speed, follow these steps:

  • Make your letters concise and to the point.
  • Do NOT include more than one or two requests at once, and be careful not to write confusing details of your family lines.
  • Type or print all names and addresses in your letter.
  • Provide complete information on an individual and event for which you need documents. Include all names that may have been used, including nicknames, alternate spellings, etc. List dates and type of event as completely and accurately as possible. If you don't know the exact date, specify the span of years you wish searched and be prepared to pay for searches that span several years.
  • Always provide an S.A.S.E., (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope).

Be sure and include following information:

  • date of request
  • full name of deceased (last name in caps)
  • sex of that person
  • date of death
  • place of death (city or town, county, state)
  • relationship to party
  • the purpose for which the record is needed
  • requestor's name & address
  • requestor's driver's license number & state (some counties require it)
  • requestor's signature

INFORMATIONAL COPY

If you cannot obtain an authorized copy under California law, you can obtain an informational copy. An informational copy contains the same information as an authorized copy, but will have a legend across the face with the statement "INFORMATIONAL, NOT A VALID DOCUMENT TO ESTABLISH IDENTITY." Authorized and informational copies are both "certified copies."