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Are Death Records Public Record?

Probate and Estate Attorney

Public records are any information or documents that are made by a government agency or officer and are required by law to be kept and maintained. They are also any records that are filed with a government agency or office. Most public records are available to anyone that requests them but some have eligibility requirements or are confidential. There are many types of public records that are available for free at the federal, state, county and city level. Some examples of free public records are census data, property information, tax liens and judgments, criminal records, bankruptcies and court records. Even though these types of records are free they can often be difficult to find as they are typically available at a local government agency. There are many private companies and websites that aggregate public records from a wide variety of sources and charge a fee to provide access to all of them from one search.
It would appear that, from beginning to end, all of the biggest events in your life are also part of public records. New births are always reported by the hospitals or professionals who deliver the child, while coroners’ offices assign death certificates. These records assist with census data and other commonly used statistics. Additionally, birth and death records help states avoid having unidentified residents in their records or on their social programs. Marriage licenses are also kept as a matter of public record.

These types of documents can be extremely helpful when researching your family tree and history, as tracking down past family members and their spouses would be a real challenge without them. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records are typically managed and made available at the local county clerk’s office where the event took place. States will also often have a department of health that can provide access to older vital records. In addition to physical locations, many states are putting or have put their databases online for ease of access.

Death records are included with birth records under the category of “vital records.” These records are created by local authorities throughout the States and may also be created overseas by the military. There are many reasons why you may need a death record. For example, you may be an executor of an estate. You may be a surviving spouse who needs a death record to gain access to your spouse’s real estate assets. Regardless of the reason, there are many ways to gain access to a death record. Vital records have been kept by most states since the early 1900s. However, some states have had death records as early as the 1600s. It is now required by federal law for all states to keep death records, but what must be included in a death record can vary. In the 21st century, certain forms of death records have become much more accessible than others.

Types Of Death Records

There are two types of death records: official death certificates and death indexes. The official death certificate is issued at the time of one’s death and includes vital information about the deceased. This includes the: Full name, Cause of death and Time of death.

The information included in these records can be more sensitive, so they are sometimes restricted by the state. The restriction expires within 50 to 100 years, depending on the state. To obtain an official death certificate, begin by contacting the state in which the individual resided. The state may refer you to a local agency or may have possession of the certificate.
Death indexes are more readily accessible. They provide basic information about the deceased and do not include sensitive information. While there are often costs associated with obtaining death certificates, death indexes can usually be downloaded for free.

Obtaining Death Records Online

Depending on the state in which the death certificate was issued, it may be possible to obtain a death certificate online. State agencies sometimes maintain their death records online and there are also various websites which aggregate death records online. While these websites are convenient, the death records are not official. If you need an official death certificate then it is best to contact the county in which the death took place and/or the place in which the person who died had lived. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, warrants/arrests, court cases, and obituaries are just a few of the records available to the public. Many government agencies are now digitizing these records and making them publicly available online. There are many reasons to search for public records. Whether you’re trying to compile a family genealogy, prepare for an employment background check on your own arrest record, or are just curious about someone in your family, there are many free resources online that can help you easily locate public records.

• Find birth records: Birth records are one of the most commonly searched for vital records. Most online vital records websites do not let you view the actual birth certificate. However, many free sites will allow you to at least see the person’s name, date of birth, and their county or city of birth.

• Acquire a Death Certificate: There are many ways to find death records online. Some genealogy websites list death records with their birth record information. But the most accurate way to get official information is to search for your local secretary of state’s website. If you’re looking for a relative, be sure to know the person’s full name. It may be helpful to know the individual’s date of birth as well. If you don’t know the exact year of death, you may at least need to know the range of the individual’s year of death. This can help narrow your search, and ensure that you get accurate results. To conduct a search, all you need to do is type in an individual’s name and a range of years within which you think they died. If a record matches your search, you can click on it and you will be given a reference number, the name, the date of death, the county of death, and the gender of the individual.

• Find Marriage Records and divorce records: Much like birth and death records, you will not be able to find the actual marriage or divorce licenses online. However, you can search online for records of marriages and divorces, which are generally maintained at either the state or county level. Many states manage marriage and divorce records online through the Department of Health. In the State of Utah, for example, the Department of Health oversees the Office of Vital Statistics. This office maintains an index of marriages and divorces, but for actual copies of a marriage license or a divorce decree you would need to contact the county probate court or the county clerk of courts, respectively.

• Records remain confidential for 72 years from the date of the census. For example, records from the 1950 Census will be available to the public in 2022. Once records become public, they are transferred from the Census Bureau to the National Archives. Therefore, if you want to search public census records, you will usually do it through the National Archives website.

Obtaining Obituaries

In addition to finding a death record, there are many websites that aggregate obituaries. Obituaries should not be treated as official death records because it is possible to submit an obituary that contains information that is not factual. A death certificate is considered a much more official record of an individual’s death. When someone dies, the death must be registered with the local or state vital records office within a matter of days. The vital records office can then issue copies of the death certificate, which you may want or your personal records or to handle a deceased person’s affairs.

The funeral home, cremation organization, or other person in charge of the deceased person’s remains will prepare and file the death certificate. Preparing the certificate involves gathering personal information from family members and obtaining the signature of a doctor, medical examiner, or coroner. The process must be completed quickly within three to ten days, depending on state law. A death certificate contains important information about the person who has died. Details vary from state to state, but often include:

• full name
• address
• birth date and birthplace
• father’s name and birthplace
• mother’s name and birthplace
• complete or partial Social Security number
• veteran’s discharge or claim number
• education
• marital status and name of surviving spouse, if there was one
• date, place, and time of death, and
• the cause of death.

In many states, you can get either informational or “certified” copies of a death certificate. Informational copies are for personal records and are usually available to anyone who requests them. Certified copies bear an official stamp, and are necessary to carry out many tasks after a death from obtaining a permit for burial or cremation to transferring the deceased person’s property to inheritors.

In an increasing number of states, certified copies are available only to members of the deceased person’s immediate family, the executor of the estate, or someone who can prove that they have a direct financial interest in the estate. The simplest way to get certified copies of a death certificate is to order them through the funeral home or mortuary at the time of the death. If you are in charge of winding up the deceased person’s affairs, you should ask for at least ten copies. You will need one each time you claim property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person, including life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable on death accounts, veterans benefits, and many others. If the time of death has passed and you need to order death certificates yourself, contact the county or state vital records office. For deaths that occurred within the past few months, you should start with the county office, because it is more likely to have the certificate on file. After a few months have passed, the state office will probably have it, too. You will have to pay for each copy of the death certificate. The cost depends on your state. If you order additional copies at the same time, they will probably be less expensive. If you’re serving as the executor of the deceased person’s estate and you pay for the death certificates yourself, you can later reimburse yourself from the estate.

Although public records are records of public business, they are not necessarily available without restriction, although Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) that has been gradually introduced in many jurisdictions since the 1960s has made access easier. Each government has policies and regulations that govern the availability of information contained in public records. A common restriction is that data about a person is not normally available to others; for example, the Public Records Act (PRA) states that “except for certain explicit exceptions, personal information maintained about an individual may not be disclosed without the person’s consent”. In some state, Cabinet papers were subject to the thirty-year rule: until the introduction of FOI legislation, Cabinet papers were not available for thirty years; some information could be withheld for longer. As of 2011 the rule still applies to some information, such as minutes of Cabinet meetings. Some companies provide access, for a fee, to many public records available on the Internet. Many of them specialize in particular types of information, while some offer access to different types of record, typically to professionals in various fields. Some companies sell software with a promise of unlimited access to public records, but may provide nothing more than basic information on how to access already available and generally free public websites.

If you are like most people, you might not have been aware that public records even exist. However, if you are working on legal matters, genealogy research, government policy, or getting a copy of a marriage certificate you might find yourself looking for public records. In fact, virtually everyone will end up looking for them at some point in their life. There are a wide variety of documents and information that can be unearthed through public records requests. While the methods for retrieving documents from the government differ for the various agencies, there are some common traits that apply to all public records. Imagine, if you will, that you lived in a dystopian state where all government action is kept secret. You have no way to know what the government has been doing and how its activities may positively or negatively affect your life.

As the old cliché goes, knowledge is power. A government that keeps all the information locked up tight exerts a high degree of power over its citizens. The importance of public records really can’t be overstated because it helps ensure transparency and accountability in government. Records can be in tangible forms, such as paper, photographs, and maps, or stored on electronic media, such as CDs, DVDs, and computer databases. How the information is stored doesn’t really matter, it’s the nature of the information that determines whether it’s a public record.
Typical public records include, but are not limited to:
• Court records
• Birth records
• Death records
• Marriage records
• Licensing records
• Statistical data
• Business records, such as articles of incorporation
• Meeting minutes
• Voting records
• Correspondence
• Budgets
• Government financial records
• Manuals
• Statutes and regulations and interpretations regarding the same
• Directives, orders, and interpretations regarding the same
• Studies and reports
• Transcripts of hearings and meetings
• Administrative policies and procedures
• Government contracts and leases
• Historical records
• Research records

Obtain Death Certificate

A Death Certificate is a document issued by the Government to the nearest relatives of the deceased, stating the date, fact and cause of death. It is essential to register death to prove the time and date of death, to establish the fact of death for relieving the individual from social, legal and official obligations, to enable settlement of property inheritance, and to authorize the family to collect insurance and other benefits. A death can be reported and registered by the head of the family, in case it occurs in a house; by the medical in charge if it occurs in a hospital; by the jail in-charge if it occurs in a jail; and by the headman of the village or the in-charge of the local police station in case the body is found deserted in that area. To apply for a Death Certificate, you must first register the death.

The death has to be registered with the concerned local authorities within 21 days of its occurrence, by filling up the form prescribed by the Registrar. Death Certificate is then issued after proper verification. If a death is not registered within 21 days of its occurrence, permission from the Registrar/Area Magistrate, along with the fee prescribed in case of late registration, is required. The application form in which you are required to apply is usually available with the area’s local body authorities, or with the Registrar who maintains the Register of Deaths. You might also need to submit proof of birth of the deceased, an affidavit specifying the date and time of death, a copy of the ration card, and the required fee in the form of court fee stamps.

Estate and Probate Lawyer Free Consultation

When you need legal help with Estate and Probate Law in Utah, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

Ascent Law LLC

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About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.