Death is never easy, but it is a certainty that we deal with at multiple times during our lives. When close family or friends die, you may find yourself scrambling for a death certificate. This record of finality provides evidence of an individual’s passing and is an important document on many levels. But how do we obtain the certificate? How quickly can we get it? And who is entitled to apply? These are common questions that we all ponder as our emotions run high when grieving the loss of a loved one.
The Maryland Division of Vital Records is the state agency that issues certified copies of Maryland death certificates, as well as state birth certificates, marriage records and divorce records for events that occurred within the state. The Division issues certified copies of death certificates for individuals who died in Maryland from 1969 to the present day. If death occurred prior to 1969, you would contact the Maryland State Archives in Maryland. The state has an application on its website which can be downloaded and processed according to its instructions.
After death, the medical examiner or funeral home may also be able to make certificates available to the family or authorized individuals entitled to receive the document. If there is an autopsy or investigation surrounding the death, the process to issue a certificate usually will take longer. Certificates may be issued, but the cause of death will be noted as “investigation pending.” Once the medical certifier, cremation organization, and/or funeral home fills out the paperwork, it will forward it to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, all typically within 72 hours after the death. In fact, effective January 1, 2015, Maryland rolled out a new web-based application that these individuals and entities will be required to utilize to file death records, thus replacing the current paper- based system. The Maryland Electronic Death Registration System will aid in proper completion of certificates, fewer errors, and quicker turnaround time to family members so they can commence estate administration. In addition, the system should allow easier access through electronic means and assist in fraud prevention involving death records.
Also, there are certain individuals that may apply for a death certificate as follows: surviving relatives, an authorized representative of surviving relatives, the funeral director charged with final disposition of the body, court of law, or individuals with a proven legal need (e.g. executors or trustees). Certified copies are provided for a fee, which is currently $24.00 for the first copy, and various jurisdictions have different procedures to obtain the document. For example, VitalChek is an official online service available to order certified records on an expedited basis and funeral homes will often help obtain additional certificates as part of its services. Finally, if corrections or amendments are needed to a certificate, there are procedural guidelines to obtain through the state or statutory authority, if required, through a court order.
Once you have a death certificate, it can be used not only as a record of death, but to transfer titles, claim insurance and survivor benefits, close accounts, file taxes, or open estates. Although there is a process to follow, it is often seamless, and therefore, allows families to plan and manage in an expedient manner.
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