Helpful Death Certificate Guide

Kaitlyn N. Williams, Outreach Director/Funeral Director

When a family has a death occur, it can be extremely stressful. During your time of grief and mourning, your thoughts can feel like they’re all over the place. You may feel overwhelmed with all that is going on around you during this rough time. It can become difficult to make decisions when it comes to funeral arrangements. Thankfully, the funeral director will be there to guide you through all of the steps to make this journey easier for you and your family. Today, I want to educate you about some crucial information that is needed for the death certificates. So, what exactly is a death certificate?

A death certificate is mainly used for claiming life insurance, health insurance or Medicaid benefits, closing bank accounts, settling estates and houses and transferring car ownership. In the state of Virginia, each death certificate is $12.00. The good news about death certificates is if you need more death certificates later down the road, let’s say three years later, you can call the funeral director and they can order more for you. Another great thing is normally the funeral home will provide you with a worksheet if you are ever interested in pre-planning a funeral.  The guide will allow you to fill in your own information so your family won’t face the struggle.

When you first meet with the funeral director during the funeral arrangements, the director will ask about “vital information” or “demographics” for the death certificate. What that means is that they will need your loved one’s social security number, date of birth, highest level of education, usual or recent job/occupation, their mother’s full maiden name and their father’s full name. Some families have a hard time finding this information. Here are the best places to obtain it.


  1. Birth Certificate (it will have mother and father name on it)
  2. Social Security card
  3. Old obituaries (that have family history on it)
  4. Diplomas or certificates
  5. DD214 for Veterans


The highest level of education or occupation will not be a big problem if you do not know. The main reason the health department needs it is for vital statistics and records. But the other items mentioned are very important when it comes to a death certificate.  If there is a mistake on the death certificate like for example: wrong name, misspelling of names, wrong social security number, wrong date of birth, or wrong date of death; then it has to be amended by a court. It is very stringent and strict about the correctness of the information. If you have the documents at home, you can bring them to the arrangement meeting so the funeral director can take care of that for you. It will take some of the burden off of you.

Once the information has been obtained, the funeral director will have you look over to make sure all of the spelling is correct. Funeral directors are human too… we make mistakes. This ensures the accuracy of the vitals. Death certificates can take five to twelve days to obtain once the funeral director has completed the vital information.  After that, the death certificate will be sent to the doctor’s office or through an online system called EDRS. The entire process can ultimately take up to 3 weeks to finally obtain the original death certificate. Once that is complete, the funeral home will pickup the death certificate and send it to the local health department. The health department will then file it and make however many official copies needed.

In a summary, always feel free to ask the funeral director any questions you have. When a death occurs, make sure to bring the mentioned documents so you will be prepared. Information on a death certificate is very important and must be as accurate as possible. Amending or changing a death certificate is strategic, time-consuming and costly, so remember to check the spelling too. Also, if you’re not sure about certain spelling, you can always call other family members, friends, or distant relatives.

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