How do we obtain a death certificate?

By: Jackie Vinal
Wednesday, July 6, 2016

      There is no escape from bureaucracy, even in death. Although the loss of a loved one can be a devastating and chaotic event in your life, the paperwork mill powers on. Local, state, and federal regulations mandate that every step of the process be documented and filed with the proper organizations. Under most circumstances, it might be easy to see how this documentation helps prevent fraud and tie up loose ends on behalf of the deceased, but during a time of loss and grief, it can be overwhelming and frustrating to be faced with the hassle of paperwork and waiting periods with so much weighing on your mind. We’re here to help with that process and we will do everything in our power to fulfill a request for certified death certificates in a timely fashion. If for any reason there is a delay in obtaining a death certificate for your loved one, we are also available to inform you about the process and assist in whatever way we can. You may be wondering what must happen before a death certificate can be issued. We're happy to ease your uncertainty.

     In Tennessee, the funeral home is responsible for coordinating with the family to gather information in order to begin the process of obtaining a death certificate. The funeral director often relies on the family to provide some basic information. Most of this information is easily accessible from family and attending medical staff, such as the deceased person’s name, residence, date of birth, date and location of death, social security number, etc. However, some of the information required, such as the names of the deceased person's parents, can pose a bit of a challenge, particularly if the person making arrangements is a grandchild, distant relative, or designated friend outside the family. Tennessee death certificates also include the decedent’s level of education, usual employment, any history of military service, their marital status, and whether they will be buried or cremated.

     Once the necessary information is collected from the family, the death certificate is signed by a licensed funeral director and sent to the attending physician or medical examiner for documentation of cause of death. The medical practitioner validating the cause of death must then write an official statement on the death certificate and send it back to the funeral director. The time involved in this step varies depending on the availability of the medical practitioner and whether or not the death was expected. If there is an accident, a homicide, a suicide, or if the decedent seemed otherwise healthy when they passed, further steps may have to be taken by the medical examiner before they can make a statement about the cause of death. In the event of an unexpected death, an autopsy may be required. This can sometimes cause delays in the completion and filing of a death certificate.

     After the physician validating the cause of death has signed and returned the death certificate, the document is then reviewed for accuracy and sent to be filed with the local health department. It is important that all of the information is accurate, because if it is later discovered that corrections need to be made, it can take eight to ten weeks (two to three months) for the corrections to be applied. Once the document has been filed, the funeral director or the decedent’s next of kin may fill out an application requesting certified copies of the death certificate, which the department of vital records will provide for a small fee per copy.

      Contrary to popular belief, a certified death certificate is not automatically provided to the decedent’s next of kin. If certified copies of the death certificate are not ordered when making arrangements with the funeral home, they can always be ordered by the next of kin or the funeral director at a later time. Even so, we recommend that families always order certified copies of death certificates when they make final arrangements with their funeral home in order to expedite the the resolution of any time-sensitive matters, like closing accounts, requesting disbursement of insurance funds, or administrating the deceased person's will. 

     To ease stress on your loved ones, it may be wise to make sure all of the required information is available to the person who will arrange your funeral or cremation. Planning ahead will help ensure as far as possible that things go smoothly when the inevitable occurs. This is why we make sure to collect as much of this information as possible during our pre-need counseling. In any case, we hope you'll give us the privilege of guiding you through this process, whether you're currently dealing with a loss or simply planning for the future.

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