A death certificate is an official document from a government agency stating that someone died. It is important to know who is legally alive and who is legally dead. If someone is dead, and you don’t have a death certificate for that person, no one will believe you. It is not always easy to get a Death Certificate in Arizona.
Where to Find
If you die in Arizona, Death Certificates are issued by the Office of Vital Records. Right now (January 2021), the Office of Vital Records is closed to the public. However, it is always open on the web. If your loved one dies in Maricopa County, it has its own office of vital records.
Vital records issue several types of death certificates. They cost $20.00 a piece, and the easiest way to order Death Certificates in Arizona is through the funeral home or mortuary that handled your loved one. Always order more than you think you need. The funeral home can only get the death certificates for a few months after the funeral. Then you have to the Office of Vital Records.
Types of Arizona Death Certificates
There are three different types of death certificates in Arizona:There are three different types of death certificates in Arizona:
1. For Government Use Only
3. Certified – (This is the useful one.)
For Government Use Only
There are several different types of death certificates in Arizona. The first kind is stamped “For Government Use Only”. I believe this death certificate is from a by gone era. It is free and you definitely get what you pay for here. The government already knows your loved one is dead, and these death certificates are generally not accepted anywhere.
A probate is a government process which helps to transfer assets after death. The court is a government agency. You might think they would accept a death certificate from the State of Arizona marked “For Government Use Only”. You are wrong. The court wants a certified copy of the death certificate, not the “For Government Use Only” death certificate.
If a person dies, but they die at home, or under unusual circumstances, the official and final death certificate will be delayed. The reason is the coroner will have to do an autopsy. Today it takes a while for the coroner to do an autopsy because of the large amount of deaths. The delay can last just a few months, or several years.
So, since a person isn’t legally dead without a death certificate, the government issues a death certificate with a pending cause of death. This death certificate is legal. It acknowledges the person has died. But it is not useful for everything, like life insurance policies. The life insurance company may need to see the cause of death.
But if the person is dead, and all you have is a pending death certificate, the life insurance company may not pay out until the certified death certificate is issued. The reason is the life insurance company needs to know the cause of death to pay a claim. This is especially true in the first two years a policy exists.
However, we can use a pending death certificate to open up a probate or take over a trust bank account. In these situations, the court, and the bank, just need to know that the person is gone.
A certified death certificate has it all. The government verifies the information on the death certificate. It verifies the legal name of the person, the date of birth, the date of death, social security number, parents of the person as well as the informant’s information about the funeral home and cemetery. It will also list the cause of death. The death certificate has to be signed by a doctor or other authorized person.
The certified death certificate will also have a special embossed seal with the signature of the State Registrar. That is the main way you can tell a photocopy from the original.
The funeral home may give the family the opportunity to look at the draft of the death certificate before it is finalized. ALWAYS CHECK THE DRAFT! There are frequently errors on the death certificate. I have seen names misspelled, social security numbers out of order, murder as cause of death from someone who actually died of natural causes. The list goes on. Read every box. If the funeral home doesn’t ask you to check it, tell them you MUST CHECK THE DRAFT!
After you approve the draft, you have to live with it. Changing a legal document is an uphill battle and it won’t be accepted. That means the bank will treat you as if the person were still alive.
Out of State Death
When you die outside of Arizona, you will get a death certificate from that state. So, if an Arizona resident dies in Utah, the death certificate will be issued by the State of Utah. It will not be issued by the State of Arizona. This is important. The death certificate lists the state of residence. If you need a death certificate which proves residence in Arizona, make certain the Utah death certificate states that the residence is not Utah.
There are other types of death certificates which are issued outside of Arizona. Many states have short form death certificates. Short form actually means the state does not list a cause of death on the death certificate. You can use this like a pending death certificate. But if you need the cause of death, or other important information, then you need to order the full form, not the short form. Just so you know, the short form is generally cheaper.
If your loved one dies outside of the US, you will need to order a death certificate from the US Consulate in that country. All death certificates issued by the US Consulate, or the military are fine.
Any other type of death certificate may be an adventure. Your state may not recognize an international death certificate issued in a foreign language. Also, your state may not recognize an international death certificate from certain countries. Sometimes, you will need to transfer the body to US soil. That way a US death certificate can be issued.
If a foreign country issues a death certificate and your loved one isn’t dead, you have a big problem. Especially when they come, not knowing they are dead. You will need an attorney in this situation.
I haven’t seen it all. This is complicated stuff. If you need help, find a qualified attorney to help you.
Do you know what kind of death certificate you need?