Death Certificates

What is a death certificate?
The Pennsylvania Death Certificate provides vital statistic information, pronouncement and medical certification about the deceased and serves as a legal document certifying that a death has occurred.

What does a death certificate include?
There are 3 Distinct Sections of a Pennsylvania Death Certificate:

  1. Vital Statistics Information: The funeral home completes this section of the death certificate.  It includes information such as the name of the deceased, marital status, race, education , employment , parents’ names and next of kin, where death occurred, method of disposition and ethnic background information.
  2. Pronouncing & Certifying Death: The person that was physically present and pronounced that the death occurred then completes their area of the death certificate .  This includes their   name, time and date that the death occurred .  The only persons that are permitted to pronounce death are Registered Nurses (RN), Certified Nurse Practitioners (CRNP), Physicians and Coroners.  The physician or coroner then completes his/her section which can include up to 4 causes of death and interval of death. There are certain guidelines which physicians must follow to properly identify the cause of death.  There are also questions about pregnancy, smoking and if an autopsy was performed.  Finally, it  asks if an injury occurred and requires all available   information about the injury, where applicable.
  3. Registrar of Death:  Our funeral home then takes the completed death to our local registrar for certification and submission to PA Vital Records.

What is a registrar?
A registrar is an official delegated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health - Division of Vital Records to process and handle death certificates and birth certificates .  It is their job to verify the information contained in the death certificate is completed correctly and accurately and they then sign and have the ability to issue certified copies of the original.  Most of the time, the certified copies are issued while we wait for them.   It is the responsibility of the local registrar to then submit the original completed death certificate to Vital Records within 90 days, which is located in New Castle, Pennsylvania .  Once the original is forwarded to Vital Records, it remains there forever . There are presently three local registrars in our area .

What are death certificates used for?
Death Certificates are used for many different purposes.  They are required when closing bank accounts , processing life insurance policies, motor vehicle transfers, stocks, bonds and are used in settling the estate. They are a very important document and should be kept in a secure place at all times.

Does the funeral home take care of obtaining a death certificate?
YES, upon the death, a death certificate is started.  In most cases, our funeral home will take the original from the place of death, contact physician and make arrangements for our staff to take the original death certificate to their office and obtain their signature and official cause of death.  In certain instances (such as a death in a nursing home, we will leave the death certificate at the facility and the physician will come to the facility and sign. The facility will then contact our funeral home and we will make arrangements to pick up the death certificate .  In the case of a death in the hospital, most hospitals in our area have an office that handles processing the death certificate.   In these cases, we wait (and assist when necessary) to be contacted by the hospital to obtain the death certificate .  Pennsylvania Law (35 P.S. Sec. 450.105) States that a physician must sign a death certificate within 96 hours of the death occurring.  They can be fined if they do not cooperate.

What about the coroner’s office?
In certain circumstances, the county Coroner’s Office issues the death certificate .  These circumstances  include when a death occurs at home and can be suspicious in nature, when a death occurs in the Emergency Room, or when a crime has been committed .

The future  of electronic death certificates:
Currently , the PA Department of Health - Division of Vital Records has worked diligently to streamline and increase the efficiency of how death certificates are processed. It is projected in May of 2013 , electronic filing of death certificates will begin being tested in Bucks County .

How much do death certificates cost?

  • $6.00 each for the first 90 days after the date of death
  • $9.00 per copy thereafter (NOTE-These fees are established by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)
  • Veterans certified copies are free

What if I need more copies?
After the funeral has been completed , and the month has ended, you may find that you need additional copies of the death certificate . You can contact us to obtain additional copies . Depending on how quickly you need the additional copies, additional fees may apply as stated below. The fee per copy remains the same. We are able to quickly obtain additional certified copies within 90 days of the date of death .  We can request additional copies after 90 days which are processed by Vital Records in New Castle, PA,  in approximately 6-8 weeks .

Can I order certified copies online?
Yes, you can, visit www.health.state.pa.us/vitalrecords

What is a short certificate?
A short certificate is an extract from the official records of the Register of Wills indicating the name of the personal representative of the estate.  A “personal representative “ is either an executor (if the deceased had a Will), or an administrator  {if the deceased died without one). The Short Certificate is evidence of the personal representative’s authority to action behalf of the estate. Banks, stockbrokers, real estate agents, and other governmental  entities require a Short Certificate as proof of the appointment of the personal representative.

Where do I obtain a short certificate?
Short certificates can be obtained by visiting your local County Register of Wills office .  Below is contact information for the Register of Wills : For both counties, you will need to take with you:

  • Original Copy of the deceased’s Will
  • The witnesses that signed the Will (when able)
  • 1 Certified Copy of the Death Certificate
  • Method of Payment.  Short Certificates Currently cost $6.00 (Dauphin County) and $5.00 (Cumberland County)
  • We recommend that you call the Register of Wills before going to their offices to be sure you have all the necessary paperwork .

LOCAL COUNTY OFFICES FOR SHORT CERTIFICATES

DAUPHIN COUNTY
Dauphin County Courthouse -
1st Floor - Room 103
101 Market Street  |  Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone:  (717) 780-6500  |  Fax:  (717) 780-6474
www.dauphincounty.org

CUMBERLAND COUNTY
Cumberland County Courthouse
1 Courthouse Square, Room 102  |  Carlisle, PA 17013
Phone:  (717) 240-6345  |  Fax:  (717) 240-7797
http://www.ccpa.net/