how to get a death certificate in California

How to Get a Death Certificate in California: Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about accessing death records in California. All the information you need to submit your request, plus who can access a California death certificate, the cost, and how to get started.

What are Death Certificates (and Why is it Important to Get a California Death Certificate)?

California death certificates are legal documents, issued by the California Department of Public Health Vital Records division, that record the date, location, and cause of a person’s death that occurred within California.

In California, death certificates are completed by a licensed physician or coroner, as well as the funeral home.

California law requires all deaths that occur within the state be registered via a death certificate within 10 days of the death.

Even though families and estate representatives typically require multiple copies of a loved one’s death certificate to manage their estate, you won’t automatically receive copies, and need to ask.

Most often, you can request death certificates from the funeral director. It’s prudent to request up to 10 copies when someone passes in order to close accounts and wrap up their estate.

If you need additional death certificates, or didn’t receive copies from the funeral director, you can request them via the vital records office.

Vital Records Offices in California

California’s Vital Records office is in charge of vital records in California.

California has been filing death certificates for those who passed away in California since 1905.

The California Department of Public Health Vital Recrods division issues certified copies of California death certificates, as well as birth, marriage, and divorce certificates.

You can only get a vital record in California for an event that occurred in California.

In other words, you can only get a California death certificate for a person who died in California. If they were a California resident, but passed away out-of-state, you won’t be able to get a death certificate from California.

How to Get a Death Certificate in California?

California death certificates can be ordered by by mail, online using approved third-party providers, or in-person via a County Clerk/Recorder (for deaths that occured within that county).

How to Get a California Death Certificate by Mail

To order a death certificate by mail in California, print and fill out the application form, and mail it (along with the fee or payment information) to:

California Department of Public Health
Vital Records – MS 5103
PO Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

If you’d prefer to courier your application, and require a physical delivery address (as opposed to a PO Box) for delivery, you can use the following address:

California Department of Public Health
Vital Records – MS 5103
1501 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95814

The application form is available in English and in Spanish from the California Department of Public Health.

The pro of ordering a California death certificate by mail is that it’s convenient, doesn’t require an in-person visit to a County Clerk/Recorder in the county in which the death occurred, and is cheaper than ordering online.

The cost is $24 per copy. Payment for mail-in applications can be made by check or money order made payable to CDPH Vital Records. Cash isn’t accepted.

The con is that it may take longer to receive the death certificates you’ve ordered, due to mailing time.

How to Get a California Death Certificate In Person

To order a death certificate in person in California, you can go to the County Clerk or Recorder in the county in which the death occured and was recorded.

California death records for the current year and one year before are available at the County Health Department. Death records for previous years can be found via the County Recorder.

Before going, your best bet is to call in advance to ensure you have the right place, and they are open and accepting walk-in requests. You can find a list of local registrars on the CDPH website. There’s also a list of County Recorders on the last page of the printable application form.

For in person visits, the County Clerk/Recorder in the county in which the death occurred can issue a certified copy of the death certificate within the standard timeline of 10 to 12 weeks, although sometimes it’s faster going in person versus ordering by mail.

Before going in person, it’s helpful to fill out the application form, and ensure you have all the required documentation.

Payment methods and fees may vary across different California county offices, so you’re best to call in advance to confirm both the fees and payment methods if you plan to request the death certificate in person.

How to Order a California Death Certificate Online

To order a California death certificate online, you need to order them through one of several approved independent companies:

Processing time for online orders through 3rd party providers is the standard 10 to 12 weeks, plus shipping time, plus shipping costs.

Information Required to Obtain a Death Certificate in California

To get a certified copy of a death certificate, you need to:

  • Provide enough relevant information about the deceased to ensure the state is able to locate relevant death records.
  • Demonstrate you have a right to access the death certificate.
  • Prove your identity and eligibility via a notarized sworn statement.

Information Required to Request a Death Certificate in California

To order death records in California, you need to provide information about the deceased to help the Vital Records Office or 3rd party service find the death record you need.

In California, the following information is required to receive a certified copy of a death certificate:

  • You relationship to the person listed on the death certificate
  • First, middle, and last name of the deceased
  • County of death
  • Date of death
  • Social Security Number of deceased
  • Deceased’s date of birth
  • Full name of the deceased’s mother/parent
  • Full name of the deceased’s spouse
  • Your contact information and address

Certified Informational Copy of a California Death Certificate

California offers two types of death certificates:

  • Certified copies, which can be used to establish someone’s identity and are the most official type of California death certificate
  • Certified informational copies, which cannot be used to establish someone’s identity.

To receive a certified copy of a death certificate in California, you must be eligible and provide a notarized sworn statement in which you declare (under the penalty of perjury) that you are authorized to receive a certified copy.

However, anyone can receive an informational copy.

For the most part, the information contained in both is the same. Depending on the year the death certificate was issued, it may contain the deceased’s social security number and signature. In the case of an informational copy, that information will be redacted.

Qualifications: Who Can Order a Death Certificate in California

In addition to providing information about the deceased, you’ll need to demonstrate you have a right to access the death certificate.

According to California law, death certificates have “restricted access” for years after someone has died. Only certain people can access restricted California death records, and documentation is required. These people include:

  • Parent or legal guardian
  • Child
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Sibling
  • Member of law enforcement or other government agency making the request for official business
  • Court-appointed individuals to act on behalf of the deceased or their estate
  • Attorney representing the deceased or their estate
  • Funeral home agents and employees acting on behalf of their employer
  • Other surviving next of kin

When requesting a California death certificate, you’ll need to provide your name and relationship to the deceased individual, along with documentation that proves your relationship to the deceased, such as a birth certificate (if you are their child) or marriage certificate (if you are their spouse).

You’ll also need to provide an address to which the death certificate should be mailed, and your contact information.

What ID is Needed to Get Death Certificates in California?

Unlike many other states (for example, Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona), California doesn’t provide a list of ID required to get a certified copy of a death certificate.

However, individuals requesting a certified copy of a death certificate are required to submit a notarized sworn statement to prove their identity and eligibility.

The notary will require identification. It’s best to contact the notary you plan to use in advance to ensure you bring the right ID along to your appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a California Death Certificate

How much does a California death record search cost?

California charges $24 for a death record search. After paying the fee, you’ll get either one certified copy of the death certificate. If they can’t find the death certificate you’re after, you may get a “failure to find” certificate.

For each additional copy of a California death certificate (ordered at the same time), the fee is another $24 per copy. There is no discount for ordering multiple copies.

If you choose to order California death records online through an online service, it’s more expensive.

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