Seven Uses for a Certified Death Record

A death record is a document describing the date on which a decedent passed away. Death records in the U.S. are held at the local level. Copies of a certified death record will be required shortly after a loved one’s death to help you get his or her affairs in order. It may also be necessary to use a certified death record to adjust joint accounts after the death of your loved one. Rules regarding death record access vary by state. However, you typically cannot access a full death record unless you are related to the decedent directly or you are his or her legal representative. In some states, a partial death record can be accessed if you are not a legally authorized individual or direct relative. Such a record may omit the cause of death in an effort to protect privacy. You cannot use a death record that omits such information for most legal purposes. Although, some utility companies and other agencies in certain states do accept non-certified or partial death records. Below is a list of seven uses for a certified death record.

Estate Settlement and Probate Proceedings

Before estate settlement can be started, a certified death record must be produced. If you are the spouse of the decedent or his or her executor, it is your responsibility to present the record. You must also provide letters testamentary to prove you are legally permitted to help settle the estate. After such proof has been provided, follow local and state laws to facilitate the distribution of the estate. A probate attorney can help you adhere to your local and state laws regarding estate distribution.

Negating the Debt of a Decedent

If your loved one dies while owing debts of any kind, you may receive calls from collection agencies. Examples of such debt sources include credit cards and mortgages. You typically do not have to pay the remaining debt unless it is relating to a jointly held credit card or loan. However, the laws in your state may require you to take on some debts if the decedent was your spouse, even if you did not cosign a loan or credit card agreement. If you have no legal responsibility for the debt of the decedent, the collection agency will retrieve as much money as possible from his or her estate. The remaining debt will be negated. However, to start that process, you may be required to submit a certified death record to the collection agency.

Transferring Assets

If the decedent had any bank accounts, those assets must be distributed through the estate during the probate process. Begin by presenting a certified death record to each banking institution involved. The institutions will then freeze the bank accounts until the estate can be settled. If an heir is legally entitled to remaining assets after settlement, the money can be transferred to a new account. In the case of a joint bank account, a certified death record will be required to remove the decedent’s name from the account or close it.

Canceling or Collecting Insurance Benefits

The decedent’s medical insurance policy must be adjusted upon his or her death. You must submit a certified death record to the insurance company to cancel his or her coverage if it is an individual policy. If the coverage included family members, the plan may need adjustment rather than cancellation. A certified death record can also be used to make a life insurance claim if you are listed as a beneficiary on the decedent’s policy. However, your eligibility for compensation may depend on the cause of death.

Starting Appropriate Government Proceedings

There are several government agencies that may need to be notified after a death. Each one will require you to present a certified death certificate proving the decedent has passed. You may need to contact the government to stop certain benefits. However, if you are the spouse of the decedent, new forms of monetary compensation may also be owed to you, including a pension or military benefits. If you are unsure which benefits may need to be activated or canceled, a probate attorney may be able to assist you. The decedent’s mail can also give an indication of agencies with which he or she may have held policies. Additionally, the funeral director may contact some agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, on your behalf.

Contacting Utility Companies and Services

Canceling utility services may not be necessary immediately if the decedent shared his or her home with you. If you are keeping the home, you can take over the utility payments. You can cancel unnecessary services on an as-needed basis if you find you are not using some of them as time passes. Utility companies and service providers, such as magazine publishers, have varying company policies regarding subscription cancellations. You may be able to make a phone call to cancel a service. However, in many cases, you may be required to present a certified death certificate by mail or in person. Such policies are often in place to reduce identity theft.

Getting Married Again

Certified death certificates are often required immediately after the death of the decedent. However, there are occasions when you may need one long after the death. For example, if you were married to the decedent, you may choose to eventually remarry and you are legally free to do so. However, you will be required to submit his or her certified death certificate before your new marriage can proceed.