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Who Can Obtain A Death Certificate?

Published: May 1, 2019 by Chad Anthony Meacham

We get calls at the funeral home from time to time from people who want a death certificate.  Most of the time it’s a family member that we served needing additional certificates.  Other times, the call comes from someone we don’t know – or from an ex-husband/wife or step-child.  What are the laws concerning death certificates?  Who can get a death certificate and who can’t? 

First, I will distinguish between a “certified” copy versus a “non-certified” copy.  A certified copy is an original certificate containing a raised seal and printed on special paper.  These are produced by the county health department in the county that the death occurred or by the state department of health.  A certified copy is considered a legal document and is commonly used for business purposes like filing insurance claims and proving a death to financial institutions, etc.  A non-certified copy does not include the raised seal and may not include sensitive information such as social security number and cause of death.

In regards to certified certificates, there are laws in Indiana that define who can purchase a death certificate and who cannot.  These laws say a purchaser must have a “direct interest” which is defined as “a documented and verifiable financial and legal interest or an immediate direct kinship to the deceased.”  Other people, such as guardians, attorneys, and funeral directors often obtain certified copies due to “direct interest”.  Documentation is usually required by the purchaser.  The following list shows typical relationships that would have a direct interest and typical documentation that is required to purchase a certified certificate:

Parents of the deceased – their names must be listed on the certificate as the mother or father

Spouse of the deceased – must show proof of marriage

Child or grandchild (age 18 or older) of the deceased – must show proof of relationship

Grandparents of the deceased – they must be parent of one of the parents listed on the certificate & show proof of relationship

Sibling (age 18 year or older) of the deceased – must show proof of relationship

Aunt or Uncle of the deceased – must show proof of relationship

Niece or Nephew (age 18 year or older) of the deceased – must show proof of relationship

Step-parent of the deceased – must have ID with valid marriage certificate

People doing genealogy may also purchase a death certificate but the deceased must be over 75 years of age.  In this case, the copy may be non-certified.  Scanned images of death certificates can be obtained from numerous genealogy websites but usually contain omissions and are not considered a legal document.

This information is not intended to cover every situation but rather provide general information pertaining to death certificates.  For more information call your local health department or state department of health.  Laws may vary from state to state. 

Meacham offers perpetual care to families that have called upon us for service.  The funeral home does not charge a fee to obtain additional copies of the death certificate.  Whether it’s been 5 days or 15 years we will always extend our professional courtesy.

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