If you’re administering an estate, you’re eligible to receive an authorized certified copy of a death certificate. The possession of such a certificate is necessary to begin taking control of the decedent’s assets and accounts, which you will distribute or modify as detailed by a will, trust, or probate court.

How to Get a Certified Copy of a California Death Certificate

You can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate in California by:

  • Submitting a mail-in request to the California Department of Public Health - Vital Records
  • Submitting a virtual request to VitalChek
  • Submitting a request to the County Recorder or County Clerk in the jurisdiction where the death certificate was issued

Submitting Your Application

No matter which option you choose, you will have to verify your identity and substantiate your relationship to the deceased. When you’re submitting a request by mail or in-person, you must complete an application and affix a signed, notarized affidavit proving your responsibilities as an estate administrator.

Make sure to specify how many copies of the death certificate you need. If you’re executing an estate, you may want as many as a dozen copies.

Additionally, you’ll have to pay a fee to obtain a copy—or copies—of a death certificate. The State of California charges $21 for a certified death certificate; if you’re requesting a certificate from a county, the fee is usually a little higher.

Expect a Slow Turnaround

California does not issue death certifies copies quickly, even if you need them to begin executing a will or trust. The Department of Public Health - Vital Records states that it processes requests within 10-12 weeks. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and staffing cuts, it could take even longer.

Get the Help You Need

As an estate administrator, you are legally obligated to obtain a death certificate as soon as possible, so don’t delay in submitting your request. If you’re struggling with the paperwork or need assistance understanding California’s legal expectations for executing an estate, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional. 

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.