Death records are commonly needed for legal reasons, but many people wonder, is a death certificate public record for anyone to find?
In general, no. A death certificate contains personal and private information, so finding these can’t be done by ‘anyone.’ The next of kin, however, may access the death certificate when following the proper channels.
Yet, there are free search options that allow anyone to search for death records. Simply search by name and state.
For anyone who is interested in obtaining a death certificate, the following guide shows how to access this information using state databases.
Are Death Certificates Public Record? (Is a Death Certificate Public Record?)
Is a death certificate public record? Death certificates and all vital records are generally considered confidential information. Since this information is held at the state level, each state sets its own laws regarding the accessibility of death records and other vital records. In virtually every state death records can only be requested by the direct family members of the individual or for official reasons.
Regardless of the reason, individuals seeking death certificates will need to contact the state vital records office where the individual died and provide proof of the relationship to the deceased in order to obtain the records.
Death Certificate Search by Name
Many individuals asking “is a death certificate public record?” are wanting to check one or several names into a death certificate search in order to find out if individuals are still alive.
Unfortunately, since vital records are confidential information, no such database exists. The only way to properly obtain vital records is to file a request with the state vital records office to request the records of a specific individual. During this process, the individual must also provide some kind of proof that they are related to the deceased.
The exact relation that is needed to obtain the records will depend on the state but in most cases, it will be the parents, children, immediate family members, and spouse of the deceased.
The Alabama Public Health system has an online access for anyone who needs to find death certificates in Alabama.
Individuals can use the list below to learn more about how to request death records in each state from the vital records office.
Who Can Get a Copy of a Death Certificate?
Who can get a copy of a death certificate? Generally, the immediate family members of the deceased will be the only individuals who can request vital records of an individual. In some cases, the attorney of the deceased may be able to request records for legal purposes.
Besides the family of the deceased and potentially legal representation of the deceased, the only other way to obtain vital records is with a court order. This can be obtained for a variety of reasons, but there must be a specific reason that allows the individual to access otherwise confidential information.
Individuals hoping to request death records for the sake of curiosity will likely be denied but there are times when the court will grant access to certain death records for research purposes.
Can I Get a Death Certificate Online?
Although there is no online search database for death certificates, it is possible to submit vital records requests online in most states. To do this, simply access the website of the state vital records office from the list below.
The vital records website for each state will have specific steps regarding the best way to request and access various vital records including death certificate online options. Information regarding how to submit proof of relationship to the deceased will also be covered. In most cases, the name of the individual and proof of their relationship with them will be enough information to complete the request.
Texas offers online death certificate requests and outlines how to order death records and verifications online.
Once completed the records will be sent via mail within a few weeks.
Keep in mind that most states use a third-party service called VitalChek. VitalChek is a third-party service that is contracted by the U.S. government to maintain vital records. When requesting records from VitalChek, the company will normally send the vital records request to the state vital records office where the documents will then be mailed to the requester.
Is Cause of Death Public Record?
Many individuals wondering is a death certificate public record also need to know is cause of death public record, and can anyone search for it?
Although this information is frequently included in obituaries, there is no official cause of death public record that is available to the public. Death certificate, which as discussed are considered confidential information, is where the official cause of death will be listed. Since only family members will have access to death certificates, then only they will have access to the official cause of death.
There are exceptions to this, in particular, if there is law enforcement involved in the individual’s death then there will be other records that individuals can use to find out someone’s cause of death. Police reports are considered public records under the freedom of information act.1 This can be a good place to start if the individual’s death involved law enforcement such as in the case of a homicide.
Autopsy reports are also considered public records but will usually require a formal request to the county coroner’s office. This can be another useful way to find cause of death information, however, not everyone who dies will undergo an autopsy. Autopsies are generally used if there are unique circumstances in order to determine the official cause of death.
Can I Find Public Death Records Free?
There is currently no way to obtain confidential death records for free, or for any price. However, not all death records are confidential, and those that are not can often be requested for free.
Generally, only deaths that have occurred in the last 50 years will be considered confidential information. The laws will be different in each state but most states will eventually consider certain vital records to be historical information. When this happens, the records are often transferred from the vital records or state health office to the state archives.
Searching for historical death records in each state is a fairly easy process and can often be done for free. Keep in mind that the older the death records are the less reliable the information will be.
How To Find Cause of Death
If there is no police report of the death and no autopsy report available, the only official place where the cause of death will be listed is on the individual’s death certificate. Since death certificates are considered confidential information, many individuals’ causes of death will not be available to the general public.
The US State Department outlines how to request a copy of a consular report of death abroad, online.
Although not official, obituaries can still be a fairly reliable source to find out an individual’s cause of death.
Search Vital Records Online
Vital records can be found online at the state vital records office. The contact information for the vital records office in each state can be found below. Not only can vitally requests of all kinds be made through the state vital records website, but the office can also be contacted in order to learn more information about what records are available and the best way to make a request.
Individuals can use the list below to learn more about requesting a death certificate in each state. Since each state has its own laws regarding vital records, each website will have a slightly different method to make a request.
Although recent vital records are considered public information, there are still tons of vital records that are available to the public. The vast majority of these records will be historical records but can still be useful for many situations, such as genealogy research.
The U.S. National Archives is the federal record-keeping agency.2 Although they will not have current vital record information, as this is held by the states, they will have other searchable databases available. For example, a searchable database of Americans who died while serving in the armed forces is available.3
Keep in mind that not all of the databases listed on the National Archives website will be official databases, and many will rely on user-submitted data.
Vital Records Office
Use the list below to find the contact information for the vital records office in each state.
Search Vital Records Birth Certificate
The vital records office will contain more records besides death records. Both marriage and divorce records as well as birth records will generally be available at the state vital records office. If wondering how to find birth records free, just like death records, all birth records are also considered confidential and will have the same limits in regard to who is able to request them, with the obvious exception that the individual themselves can request their own records.
To order vital records in Texas, the online application for marriage, divorce, death, and birth certificates can be accessed through the state website.
Related Reading: Marriage Background Check: How to Find Out If Someone Is Married (Or Else)
Individuals that need to request their birth records, such as those who have misplaced their birth certificates, can request the records the same way. Simply provide the name of the individual as well as proof of the relationship to the individual. In most states, this will be performed through VitalChek.
How To Find Probate Records Online Free
Many individuals with the question “are a death certificate public record?” are really searching for probate records. Probate records will contain information pertaining to an individual’s estate upon death, information that is not included in the death certificate.
Many individuals will confuse a probate record with an individual’s will; however, the two documents are slightly different. Although both documents deal with how an individual’s estate and assets are distributed upon their death, the will is what the deceased requested be done with their estate whereas the probate is the record of what the court did with it.
Although a will is a legally binding document in most cases, the court will be the official distributor of these assets. If a will is present, the probate court will decide if the will can be executed properly. If there is no will present the probate court will then decide what to do with the individual’s estate, usually giving it to the spouse or next of kin.
Although a will is not a public record, probate records are normally considered a public record. This means that after someone dies, there will be a public court record that will detail what was done to their assets and their estate. In doing so, if there is a will present, it will then become part of the public record.
Probate records can be found online if the probate court in question has an online searchable database. If this is the case, the name of the deceased as well as their date of death will be needed to make the request for the documents with the court. To obtain a copy of the documents a fee is usually required.
Fees range from county to county but are usually below $10.
The Delaware probate office provides records searches online.
For courts that do not have online databases that can be searched, individuals can make a request to the county court clerk in person, via phone, or via email in most cases. If the request is made in person the documents will usually be given in a matter of minutes whereas phone and email requests will result in the documents being mailed. Keep in mind that there will be a fee to obtain copies regardless of the method chosen.
Trying to obtain certain vital records can be extremely difficult if not impossible in many cases. Individuals wondering “Is a death certificate public record?”, you should know that even though they are confidential in most cases, family members can still obtain them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Is a Death Certificate Public Record