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Death certificate

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Eddie August Schneider's (1911–1940) death certificate, issued in New York.

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.

Nature of a certificate[edit]

Death Certificate Rev. 1945 issued on April 5, 1948 in the Philippines
A video on how industry and occupation data in death certificates is used for public health research, and procedures for funeral directors to report these accurately

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 vote in elections.[1]

A full explanation of the cause of death includes any other diseases and disorders the person had at the time of death, even though they did not directly cause the death.[2]

The cause of death combined with the occupation and industry information, is used for public health research purposes:[3][4]

  • Detecting new illnesses or injuries occurring in relation to specific industries or occupations.
  • Monitoring known associations between job hazards and illnesses (e.g., Black Lung Disease, once thought to be on the decline within the coal industry, reemerged in 2019).
  • Calculating burden of illness for specific industries or occupations to prioritize research.
  • Guiding prevention efforts and more in-depth research on links between work and health.


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.[2]

In the United States, a standard model death certificate was developed around 1910.[2]

Specific jurisdictions[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

Death certificate issued for Elizabeth II in Scotland

When someone dies in England and Wales, a doctor involved in their care completes a "medical certificate of cause of death" (MCCD). This is then forwarded to the register office to register the person's death.[5] The General Register Office, which is a section of HM Passport Office, is responsible for civil registration services in England and Wales.[6]


National registration began in 1855; registrations are rather more detailed.[7]

United States[edit]

In most of the United States, death certificates are considered public domain documents and can therefore be obtained for any individual regardless of the requester's relationship to the deceased. Other jurisdictions restrict to whom death certificates are issued. For example, in the State of New York, only close relatives can obtain a death certificate, including the spouse, parent, child or sibling of the deceased, and other persons who have a documented lawful right or claim, documented medical need, or New York State court order.[8]


United States[edit]

A 2007 article in People magazine revealed that in the case of a stillbirth it is not standard practice to issue both a birth certificate and a death certificate. Most states instead issue a "certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dead People Voting Throughout Florida". WFTV Orlando. VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. 30 Oct 2008. Archived from the original on 23 May 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Altman, Lawrence K. (1 July 2013). "Making the Right Call, Even in Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  3. ^ "National Occupational Mortality Surveillance: Information for Funeral Directors". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 2023-07-10. Retrieved 2023-10-08. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ "Guidelines for reporting occupation and industry on death certificates". U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 2023-05-02. doi:10.26616/NIOSHPUB2012149.
  5. ^ HM Passport Office, Completing a medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD), last updated 25 March 2022, accessed 27 June 2022
  6. ^ HM Passport Office, HM Passport Office: About us, accessed 27 June 2022
  7. ^ "Items Included in the Main Registers". General Register Office for Scotland. Archived from the original on 8 June 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Death Certificates". New York State Department of Health.
  9. ^ "Welcome to MISSing Angels Bill". www.missingangelsbill.org. Retrieved 22 March 2018.

External links[edit]