Death certificates are an essential part of the legal burial process in the United States and most other countries.
A death certificate is an official document that declares a person to be deceased. It is almost always filled out and signed by a medical practitioner, medical examiner, or in some cases a funerary professional. The required information on the death certificate, filing regulations, and who has access to the death certificate information will vary from country to country. In some countries, variations occur within the same country, depending on jurisdiction. For purposes of brevity, this is limited to death certificates in the United States.
Contents of a death certificate
The information contained on a death certificate is usually pretty standardized regardless of state or municipality. The name, age, gender, last known address, date of death, and cause of death will all appear on the death certificate. Depending upon the jurisdiction in which the person expired, their occupation and the location of their death may appear as well. In certain circumstances, a post-mortem examination (autopsy) will be required by law. This is usually reserved for cases when the person died from homicide, suicide, or in the event of an inexplicable medical demise.
Death certificate purpose
Death certificates serve a variety of purposes. A death certificate is required to file a life insurance claim. Survivors of the deceased will need the death certificate in order to be issued a burial permit, which is required almost universally throughout the United States to legally inter somebody. Survivors who are eligible to receive survivor's benefits in the case of social security or private pension plans will need a death certificate to file for those benefits. Any legal or fiduciary issue subsequent to a person's demise, such as settling an estate, will typically require a death certificate as well. Various public health departments and agencies use the information on death certificates to identify epidemiological patterns that may lead to the discovery of public health hazards, such as in the case of previously unidentified toxic waste dumps. These might include specific cancer clusters or unusual fatal disease patterns.
Death certificate types
There are three types of death certificates used in the vast majority of locations. The first is the standard death certificate which addresses deaths due to natural causes, such as a heart attack. The second type is the medical/legal death certificate which is used when there are legal issues surrounding the person's death, such as homicide or suicide. The last kind is specifically for fetal or stillborn deaths.
Regardless of the type of death certificate, the immediate cause of death, any conditions that may have contributed to the immediate cause of death, and any other medical maladies or conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.) will appear on the death certificate. In the event that the circumstance of the person's death requires an autopsy, the autopsy report will typically accompany the death certificate. However, while a death certificate is needed for issuance of a burial permit, the autopsy report is not. It is illegal to bury or otherwise dispose of human remains without the death certificate and burial permit. In some jurisdictions, they are required for the transportation of the remains prior to funerary processing and final disposition.