What is a death certificate?
A death certificate is the legal record of the death of an individual. As a permanent legal record, the death certificate is extremely important to the decedent's family.
What are death certificates used for?
Death certificates are needed to prove that a person has actually died in the following situations:
- To certify death to an insurance company, so that the life insurance policy can be paid.
- To prove to creditors that a death occurred.
- Lawyers need an official death certificate to execute a last will and testament.
- Needed for real estate transactions to deal with property ownership situations.
- Many other legal and financial situations require a death certificate.
What does a death certificate include?
The filing of the death certificate is the responsibility of the funeral director. However, others share the responsibility for the completion of the death certificate. Pennsylvania Law (35 P.S. Sec. 450.105) states that a physician must sign a death certificate within 96 hours of the death occurring. The certificate includes:
- Vital Statistics: This section includes the name of the deceased, marital status, race, education, employment, parents’ names and next of kin, where death occurred, and method of disposition. The vital statistics section is usually completed by the funeral home.
- Pronouncement & Certification of Death: This section includes the name of the person that was physically present and pronounced the time and date that the death occurred. The physician or coroner then includes up to four causes of death and the interval of death. There is also information about pregnancy, smoking and if an autopsy was performed. Finally, it asks if an injury occurred and requires all available information about the injury. The only persons that are permitted to pronounce death are registered nurses (RN), certified nurse practitioners (CRNP), physicians and coroners.
- Registrar of Death: The registrar of death signs the last section of the death certificate and submits it to the PA Vital Records.
What is a registrar?
A registrar is an official delegated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health - Division of Vital Records to process and handle death certificates. It is their job to verify the information contained in the death certificate is completed correctly and accurately and they then sign and have the ability to issue certified copies of the original. It is the responsibility of the local registrar to submit the original completed death certificate to Vital Records within 90 days. Once the original is forwarded to Vital Records, it remains there as a permanent record.
How many death certificate copies will I need?
In most cases, it is necessary to provide a copy of a certified death certificate when you are submitting claim forms and completing paperwork. Parthemore Funeral Home will obtain the initial copies of the death certificate for you. The checklist below will help you determine how many copies of the death certificate you may need.
Death Certificate Checklist
- Register of Wills
- Social Security
- Medicare / Medicaid
- Veteran’s Benefits
- Pension & Retirement
- Life Insurance (one copy needed for each policy)
- Health Insurance
- Credit Cards (one copy needed for each account)
- Personal Loans
- Home Mortgage
- Bank Accounts (one copy needed for each banking institution)
- Safe Deposit
- Financial Investments
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Real Estate Deeds
- State Revenue Department
- Internal Revenue Service
Please note that not all of these items will apply to your particular circumstance. For example, Parthemore Funeral Home notifies Social Security of the death. The only time you should need a death certificate for Social Security is if there is a dependent child.
What if I need more copies?
As you begin the process of working through the legal and personal documents of your loved one, you may find that you need additional copies of the death certificate. There are several ways you can get additional copies. You can contact Parthemore Funeral Home to obtain additional copies within 90 days of the date of death. Copies requested after 90 days must be processed by Vital Records in New Castle, PA. You can also order copies of the death certificate online at www.health.state.pa.us/vitalrecords.
How much do death certificates cost?
All fees for death certificates are established by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and paid directly to them.
- $6.00 each within the first 90 days after the date of death
- $9.00 per copy thereafter
Is the fee for a death certificate waived for military personnel?
Yes. This fee may be waived for records of individuals who served in the Armed Forces and their dependents.
What is a short certificate?
A short certificate is issued by the Register of Wills and states that a personal representative has been appointed and sworn in to administer an estate. The short certificate identifies who the executor of the estate is if there is a valid will, or who the administrator of the estate is if there is no valid will.
A short certificate is not required in every instance that you need death certificate. Generally speaking, a short certificate is required to transfer assets and accounts that were titled in the decedent’s name at the time of their death. These are accounts that do not provide for transfer to a designated beneficiary upon death.
Short certificates can be obtained in any number, at any time, for a modest charge. How many short certificates are needed will depend on how many accounts the decedent owned in their name that requires an executor or administrator to be appointed by the Register of Wills to transfer title to the account.
Estate administration is a complicated matter. It is always wise to consult with an attorney who is experienced in estate administration matters.
You will need to take the following items with you to obtain a short certificate:
- Original copy of the deceased’s will
- The witnesses that signed the will (when able)
- 1 certified copy of the death certificate
- Short certificates currently cost $6.00 (Dauphin County), $5.00 (Cumberland County), $3.00 (Perry County), and $5.00 (York County)
We recommend that you call the Register of Wills before going to their offices to be sure you have all the necessary paperwork. Local county offices for short certificates:
Dauphin County Courthouse
1st Floor – Room 103
101 Market Street | Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone: (717) 780-6500 | Fax: (717) 780-6474
Cumberland County Courthouse
1 Courthouse Square, Room 102 | Carlisle, PA 17013
Phone: (717) 240-6345 | Fax: (717) 240-7797
Perry County Courthouse
2 East Main Street | New Bloomfield, PA 17068
Phone: (717) 582-2131 | Fax: (717)582-5149
York County Judicial Center
45 North George Street | York, PA 17401
Phone: (717) 771-9607 Fax: (717) 771-4678