*Please note, our law firm does not provide copies of death certificates. Our firm focuses on Estate Planning, Trust & Estate Administration and Probate.

If you’ve been named the executor of a will or estate administrator, you won’t be able to begin evaluating creditor claims or distributing assets to heirs without first obtaining a copy of the decedent’s death certificate. 

California Probate Lawyer Kavesh, Minor & Otis

Across the United States, death certificates are issued by whichever authority is entrusted with a person’s remains, which can be a funeral home, cremation site, or medical institution. Before a death certificate can take legal effect, it must be approved by the decedent’s relatives and signed by a doctor or coroner.

While death certificates must be issued within days of a person’s death, the procedure for obtaining a copy takes longer.

Who Can Obtain a Death Certificate Copy

Under California state law, only certain people can obtain certified copies of a death certificate. They include:

  • The parents or legal guardian of the deceased
  • Law enforcement
  • Spouses, grandparents, and other close relatives
  • Certain medical personnel
  • Attorneys
  • Anyone charged with executing an estate

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. 

Do You Need Legal Help Regarding Probate Issues in California?

If a loved one died without a will and you need legal assistance regarding the probate process you should speak with an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our office directly at 800.756.5596 to claim your space at one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a discount for our probate services. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills, and Pasadena.

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