A death certificate is either a legal document issued by a medical practitioner which states when a person died, or a document issued by a government civil registration office, that declares the date, location and cause of a person’s death, as entered in an official register of deaths.
An official death certificate is usually required to be provided when applying for probate or administration of a deceased estate.
They are also sought for genealogical research. The government registration office would usually be required to provide details of deaths, without production of a death certificate, to enable government agencies to update their records, such as electoral registers, government benefits paid, passport records, transfer the inheritance, etc. Smart contracts allow for automatic execution of the wishes of the deceased upon registration of the death certificate.
Historically, in Europe and North America, death records were kept by the local churches, along with baptism and marriage records. In 1639, in what would become the United States, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first to have the secular courts keep these records. By the end of the 19th century, European countries were adopting centralized systems for recording deaths.
Nature of a certificate
Before issuing a death certificate, the authorities usually require a certificate from a physician or coroner to validate the cause of death and the identity of the deceased. In cases where it is not completely clear that a person is dead (usually because their body is being sustained by life support), a neurologist is often called in to verify brain death and to fill out the appropriate documentation.
The failure of a physician to immediately submit the required form to the government (to trigger issuance of the death certificate) is often both a crime and cause for loss of one’s license to practice. This is because of past cases in which dead people continued to receive public benefits or voted in elections.
How is life?
Life is fleeting, but the information on a death certificate crystallizes certain information for time immemorial. Truthful reporting of the information contained in the death certificate is, therefore, critical if the record is to be true and correct. Why does it matter? Because the personal information included in a death certificate is the basis for rights and responsibilities under New York laws relating to inheritance and the descent and distribution of property.
A death in New York generally must be registered immediately and not later than seventy-two hours after the death. It is generally the funeral director who, in compliance with the Public Health Law, is responsible for providing to the Department of Health the personal information regarding each person who dies in New York.
The funeral director relies on the Informant to provide the “personal particulars” about the person who has died. The personal information that the funeral director needs to know is:
- Name of Person who died
- Aliases or AKAs
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Usual Occupation (type of work done during most of working life (not “retired”)
- Kind of business or industry
- Birthplace (City & State or Foreign Country)
- Education (highest degree or level of school completed at the time of death)
- Armed Forces service
- Marital/Partnership Status at time of death
- Surviving Spouse’s/Partner’s Name (if wife, first, middle and last name prior to first marriage)
- Father’s first, middle and last name
- Mother’s first, middle and last name prior to first marriage
- Informant’s name and address
- Informant’s relationship to decedent
It is a misdemeanor under New York Law to “refuse or fail to furnish correctly any information in his possession, or … furnish false information affecting” a death certificate.
Are you the right person to be the Informant?
The Informant should be someone who truly knows the answers to the relevant questions about the decedent and will provide truthful and accurate information. Consider these points:
- If the person was married, the Informant should know whether the decedent was really still legally married at the time of death. For example, the Informant should not indicate that the decedent was divorced if the individual was merely separated. A decedent might also still be considered legally married if the decedent was in the process of getting divorced.
- If the Informant believes that the person who died was “like a father” to Sally, the Informant should not list Sally as a daughter.
- If the person who died treated the Informant like his “brother,” the Informant should not list his relationship to the decedent as his brother. Similarly, if the Informant is a stepson, the Information should not list himself as a “son.”
If in doubt – don’t guess. Precision counts. Find out the correct answers before responding to a funeral director’s questions.
The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) assists low-income New Yorkers with matters pertaining to Wills & Estates. If you reside in New York City, please call the PELP intake line at (212) 382-6756 to see if you are eligible for assistance.
Who can register a death?
Only relatives or certain other individuals are qualified by law to register a death. This will also depend on where the death occurred.
When you telephone to make the appointment to register the death, give the name and relationship of the person who will be attending to do the registration to check that they are best person available to do this. It is preferable if the person who is at the top of these lists can do the registration. It can be someone further down the list if someone above cannot carry out the registration for reasons of disability or ill health, they are out of the country or other reasons such as being in custody.
If the death occurred inside a house or public building such as a hospital, the following people may register the death:
- A relative
- Someone who was present at the death
- The occupier of the house or an official from the public building where the death occurs, e.g. the hospital
- The person making the arrangements with the funeral director
What does informant’s name mean?
A person who gives information: such as. a : informer. b : one who supplies cultural or linguistic data in response to interrogation by an investigator.
What details are on a death certificate?
name of the deceased. sex, age and occupation of deceased and possibly their home address. the cause of death – if there was an inquest it may be possible to obtain a copy of the coroner’s report. the name and address of informant and possibly their relationship to the deceased.
Who holds the original death certificate?
Can anyone get a copy of a death certificate?
Not everyone can obtain a copy of the death certificate. Most typically, only certain people can request this record with few questions asked: The executor or administrator of the estate. Immediate family: spouse, parent, child, sibling.