Death certificates are magic pieces of $21 paper. They contain data about your loved one’s life and death and are used to unlock many a bureaucratic door (bank accounts, life insurance, cell phones, retirement accounts, etc.) After someone dies, you may want to start slogging through the bureaucracy right away, and are wondering just where those death certificates are. Didn’t you give all of mom’s information to the funeral home a week ago?
Yes, you did. But the number one thing to understand is that death certificates are not produced or printed at the funeral home. How we wish they were, we could print one out for you at the drop of a hat (and would!)
I completely understand why you think death certificates are produced at the funeral home, given that we create the death certificate at the funeral home. Here’s a brief insight into the process: first, we collect all the biographical information from you. That includes things like birth information, parent’s information, occupation, race and ethnicity, etc. Then we work with the doctor or medical examiner to collect the medical and cause of death information. From here there are a series of hoops to jump through, including having the doctor sign off on the causes of death (by fax, if you can believe it) and getting the certificate registered through local and state registrars who specialize in certifying death certificates. Once it’s registered with the state, something called a working copy of the death certificate is issued.
Only after all this, are we able to put in your order for certified copies of the death certificate. Other states have slightly different death registration systems (so don’t say Clarity Funerals told you it was this way in Kentucky!) but this is how the process goes in California. Once a funeral home puts in the order for death certificates to the country registrar or health department, we lose control over how long they will take to be printed. This is frustrating for both families and the funeral home. We’re in this waiting game together.
Once ordered, it can take up to two weeks for the death certificates to be printed and returned through the mail, especially in counties that see a high volume of deaths (Los Angeles and Orange counties, for example.) Prior to the pandemic, it was possible to have either one of our funeral home representatives or you (as the next of kin), walk right into the local health/vital records office with an application and check and get certified death certificates the very same day. As of right now, the offices are closed and everything goes out and comes back through the mail, which is obviously a much slower process.
We hope to be able to offer in-person death certificate pick-up again soon. Until then, we will continue to use the mailing system that the registrars have set up. While you wait, our advice is to create a list of companies and institutions that need certified copies of death certificates. Many will only need a photocopy of the certified copy, which will save you $21! Note on your list who needs a certified copy, who needs a photocopy, if there are any additional forms to fill out, and the direct phone number of who you’ll need to talk to. Hopefully by the time the death certificates arrive you’ll have that list and a game plan in place. Calling them all at once can save you significant time and stress.
Best of luck, and let us know if you have any questions.
-Clarity Funerals & Cremation