What to Know About Death Certificates

Military photo and death certificate.


When a family member dies, planning a funeral or memorial service adds an additional challenge to an already difficult time. As you weather the storm of grief, you must also handle the logistics of laying them to rest, from planning the funeral to settling their estate. There will be forms and paperwork to fill out, phone calls to make, and unfamiliar processes to navigate.


Only time and healing will ease the burden of grief. But understanding the technical details of settling a loved one’s affairs can make it a little easier.


Obtaining a death certificate is one of the first vital tasks you’ll need to complete before you can manage the rest of a loved one’s affairs. Below are some answers to common questions about death certificates.


What Is a Death Certificate?

A death certificate is an official legal document. It acts as proof of a person’s passing and is certified by the state government. The death certificate will generally list the time, location, and cause of an individual’s death, and this information immediately becomes part of the public record.


When your loved one dies, the funeral director will help you obtain as many copies of the death certificate as you need. Later, death certificates can be obtained through the State Registry of Vital Records in Boston.


Why Do I Need a Death Certificate

Your grief may feel like all the proof you need of your loved one’s passing, but many institutions will require an official death certificate to close accounts and change vital records.


You must inform parties like banks, the IRS, and credit card companies of your loved one's passing. Until they're told otherwise, these institutions will assume your loved one is still alive. You'll need a death certificate to make plans for their estate, file final tax returns, and handle retirement plans, military benefits, and pension plans, just to name a few examples.


Without a death certificate, you may be unable to remove their name from joint accounts or transfer beneficiaries of a pension or insurance plan. You'll also need a death certificate to file for life insurance benefits.


How Do Death Certificates Work?

Massachusetts now uses an electronic death registration system for all deaths occurring in the state. If your loved one is taken to the medical examiner, their office will automatically generate a death certificate, which is then filed with the city clerk.


The death certificate will be filed in the city or town where the death occurred and the city or town where the deceased lived. The medical examiner’s office will enter the medical information onto the death certificate and send it electronically to the funeral home.


If the final cause of death has yet to be determined, the death record is considered pending. Some insurance and banking companies won’t accept a death certificate if it is still listed as pending. If your loved one comes straight into the care of our funeral home, a funeral director at Chapman Funerals will help you.


When Your Loved One is Taken into Our Care

At Chapman Funerals & Cremations, one of our funeral directors will meet with the family to discuss the necessary information required for the death certificate, such as:

  • Date of birth
  • Marital status
  • Occupation
  • Address
  • Any other relevant information

Our funeral director will then obtain a burial or cremation permit, and the death certificate will be electronically filed with the city or town clerk where the death occurred. We will then obtain copies of the death certificate for the family.


The state-certified death certificate will arrive within 10 to 14 days. It will be printed on special embossed paper with a state seal and watermarking to prove its authenticity.


In Massachusetts, funeral directors are required to notify Social Security of a death. This ensures that anyone receiving Social Security payments does not continue to receive payments following their passing. Other authorities, like life insurance companies and banks, will need to be contacted by the family once the death certificate has been obtained.


How Many Death Certificates Do I Need?

We recommend that at least five certified copies of the death certificate be requested initially, and more can be requested later. A funeral director will be able to help you determine if you will need more. Each certified copy comes with a small fee.


Do Funeral Homes Keep Copies of Death Certificates?

As a rule, funeral homes do not keep death certificates and similar vital records for the people in their care. The funeral director will help you with filling out the necessary paperwork and requesting certified copies as a courtesy, but additional copies after the funeral will need to be obtained from the city clerk or Registry of Vital Records.


Easing the Burden of Loss

Since 1862, Chapman Funerals & Cremations has helped families in Massachusetts make sure all their needs are taken care of when a loved one passes. These days, that means filling out paperwork on a computer rather than with quill and ink, but we still take care of each process for you, to help lessen the amount of stress in planning.


When a death impacts a family, so many things need to be taken care of immediately, while a family is still coming to terms with their loss. During this difficult time, we make sure everything is taken care of, so you can focus on the details that are most important to you and your family. From our funeral home locations in Falmouth, West Falmouth, Mashpee, Martha's Vineyard, Wareham, Harwich, Yarmouth, Marstons Mills, Nantucket, Bridgewater, to East Bridgewater – we are close by to help.

Laying a loved one to rest is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to endure, but we’re here to make it as simple as possible.



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