Death Records and The Law
In the United States, death records are considered “vital records”, and are publicly registered. When an American dies, their death records are registered with their local authorities. The exception to this is if they're a member of the military. Since these are public records, anyone is legally allowed to look them up.
This has been true in all states since the federal government made it mandatory in 1900. Unless you're 119 years old, that's long enough ago to cover anyone you've ever met. If you're looking for historical death records, your results will depend on where you live. Several states have kept death records since they first existed. Massachusetts kept death records in the early 1600s, when it was still a tiny British colony. What's in a Death Record?
There are two kinds of death records in the US: death certificates and death indexes. Death indexes list only the name of the person and the time and cause of their death. This is the part of a person's death record that's available to the public. Some states offer these records for free, while others charge a fee.
Full death certificates can contain more detailed information, and may be restricted only to family members or public officials by the state. These restrictions can last anywhere from 50-100 years. Chances are, unless you're an attorney, estate executor, or next of kin, a simple death index will be sufficient for your needs.
Where to Find Death Records
If you're trying to find death records on your own, you'll want to visit the CDC's vital records page. This page is a directory of agencies throughout the country, with their addresses, fees, and any other information you need to know.
Yes, you read that correctly. While death certificates are a matter of public record, you have to pay a fee to get a copy. In New York, for example, a death certificate costs $30, but don't take this as gospel. Every state has their own fees. You'll need to send check or money order by snail mail, and wait for a response in the mail, usually in a few weeks. Some states provide basic death indexes for free.
At CheckPeople.com we are able to negotiate much lower rates with state agencies, since they collect thousands of public records every day. If you'd rather not pay through the nose and sit on your hands to get a simple death record, you can save a lot of time and money by using our service.
Death Records and Probate Court
Some US states don't require estates to go through probate court. In these states, when someone dies, their estate is distributed privately, and matters only end up in court if there's a dispute between the heirs.
If you live in one of those states, consider yourself lucky. In many states, all estates are required to go through probate court, regardless of whether or not there's a dispute. Someone with one child can die, with nobody disputing the fact, and the child will still need to go to court to get their inheritance.
This is one of the most unfortunate situations someone can end up in. Nobody should have to go to court while they're still grieving a loved one, and then have to deal with government bureaucracy on top of it, just to get a simple death record. That's just adding insult to injury. A database like CheckPeople can help you get through this difficult time. Just run a simple search, print off the documents you need, and forget about paperwork. You have more important things to be doing right now.
Maybe you don't have any pressing reason to get death records fast. Your loved one didn't die, and you aren't being sued. You certainly don't need a formal, legal document. You're just curious about that old flame, or a former teacher you lost touch with. For these less pressing needs, running an obituary search isn't a bad idea. Thanks to the internet, even small local newspapers are posting all of their content online. You'd think you could just run a search for “John Doe obituary” and find anything and everything, but that isn't always the case.
Someone's name may have changed. There may not be any obituary, for some reason. Even if there is an obituary with the correct name, the person's local newspaper may be behind a paywall. If their local paper's website requires a subscription, obituaries won't show up in search engine results. None of this is a real concern if you're looking for death records out of pure curiosity. But if you seriously need to know whether or not someone is dead, an obituary search isn't reliable.
Location Is a Crucial Detail
Everything we've talked about has been based on the assumption that you even know where the deceased died to begin with. If you don't know where they died, you won't know where to send out requests for public death records. Even if they died in a state where death indexes are available for free, how would you find them if you didn't know they lived in that state to begin with? The CheckPeople search can find records in all 50 states as well as publicly available military vital records. No matter where someone died, CheckPeople will find their death records, and any other information you need.