Life working at a Funeral Home – Death Certificates
Death Certificates –
I have written about death certificates before but I am going to again….just because it seems that no matter how many times I tell someone the process of getting a death certificate works, no one listens. Especially a pending death certificate.
When a person dies, a death certificate must be filed. The family usually wants and needs some certified death certificates for financial reasons, personal reasons, or for an attorney, etc…. So this is how it goes, usually. (I am writing this process based on how it works where I am located, it may vary state by state).
When we receive a death call we obviously find out where this person passed at.
If the person passed away in a hospital we ask: will the doctor information come with the deceased or do we need to contact medical records? If the information will be with the deceased we will wait until the body is brought to the funeral home, there will be a slip with the deceased’s name, date and time of death and the doctor who will be signing the death certificate and the doctor’s office phone number. We will call the office and verify that this doctor will be signing and when may we come to the office with the death certificate to have it signed. If we have to contact medical records, we call them and give them the deceased’s name and date of death and ask if we can have the doctor that will be signing the death certificate and hopefully a phone number so we can call the doctor’s office and verify and ask when we can come to get it signed. Some doctors will sign a death certificate at the hospital and the hospital will contact us when it is ready for us to come pick up.
If the person passed away at home: we ask the caller if the deceased was under hospice care at home? If they were, then we would ask to speak with the hospice nurse who in turn will give us the name of their hospice facility and phone number so we can call the hospice facility and find out if we need to type the death certificate and bring it to the facility or if the doctor will be signing a death certificate at the facility and we pick it up. Where is the facility located and when should we come to get the death certificate (usually they will call us when it is signed or they will give us a time frame in which we can come get one signed). Also any death that occurs at home requires that Medical Examiner is contacted. Regardless if it is hospice or not (and again, this is my State and the county in which we are in). Since the death occurred at home and the M.E. was contacted then we need the case number to which they assigned to the deceased because that information is entered onto the death certificate. If the patient was not under hospice care and had not been under any care of any doctor for any illness that may have caused the death, then when the police officer contacts the M.E. and lets them know the situation, the M.E. will pick the deceased up from the home and take them back to the Medical Examiners office for an autopsy. When that happens the Medical Examiner automatically is the one signing the death certificate. When we are told we are able to pick the deceased up from the Medical Examiner’s office the death certificate will be with the deceased and brought back to the funeral home for us to finish typing (all the deceased’s information – I will post what other information is entered on the death certificate later in this post). If the patient had been under the care of a doctor for an illness and the police officer informs the M.E. of this, the M.E. will get the doctor information from the family and contact that doctor to verify and will release the body to the funeral home of the families choice. So when we receive the call from the family or police office we will ask what the case number from the M.E and contact the M.E to get the doctor information so we can contact that doctor to verify that he/she will be signing the death certificate, where their office is located and when may we come to the office to get it signed.
If the patient was in a Nursing Home: Similar to if the deceased passed away at a hospital, but sometimes in a Nursing Home the patient may be under the care of Hospice. So if the deceased was a regular inpatient at a Nursing Home we will ask the Nursing Home where do we get the death certificate signed, at the doctor’s office or will there be one at the Nursing Home for us to pick up. If the patient was under hospice care at a Nursing Home, then we need to find out what hospice company and get the phone number and call that hospice facility to find out if we are to pick the death certificate up from them or do we need to bring one to them and again, where are you located and when may we come to pick up or get it signed.
So, once we have the doctor information and we know who, when and where….we will type a death certificate (if we have to take one to get signed). We can only type one once we have ALL the information on the deceased, that we get from the family when they come in to make the funeral arrangements. If we are to pick up a death certificate that has been signed then we have to bring it back to the funeral home to type in the deceased’s information. (so if someone passes in the middle of the night and we get the doctor information first thing in the morning but the family is not coming in until, lets say, 1pm, we cannot take the death certificate to get signed until we have that information, most doctors will not sign a blank death certificate, unless they are signing one that is at their facility, such as a hospital or hospice facility, and even if we are able to pick the signed death certificate up before the family comes in for arrangements, we still cannot type in anything until we get the required information).
Information needed for a death certificate:
First, Middle, and Last name of deceased. Date of Birth. Sex. Date of Death. Name at Birth. Age. Place of Death. City/Town of Death. County of Death. Usual Residence. County. City. Address of deceased. Zip code. Place of Birth. Social Security Number. Highest level of Education. Race. Nationality. Was deceased a Veteran. Usual Occupation. Kind of business or industry. Deceased Married, Widowed, or Divorced. Name of surviving spouse (use maiden name). Father’s name. Mothers name (maiden name). Informant’s name. Informants address. Informants phone #. Informants relationship to deceased. Is it Burial, Entombment, or Cremation. Location of Burial. City & State of burial. Funeral Directors Signature. Name and address of Funeral Home. Time of Death. Type if facility where death occurred or at home. Inpatient, Emergency Room or other. Was Medical Examiner contacted. If yes, Case number. Was autopsy preformed. Type of death (all deaths are considered natural unless it was an accident, murder, suicide). The doctors signature and address. Cause of death.
Once we have ALL of that and we have typed it all in, we can now take it to the proper city clerks office to have it filed. Death Certificates are filed in the city the deceased passed away in. Every city clerks office has their own charges for death certificates. Typically the cost is around 15/5 ($15 for the first certified copy and $5 for every other copy). We do not charge the family any extra for death certificates! City clerks offices are open during regular business hours. Monday thru Friday only. They are all usually closed on all holiday’s and some are closed on certain days or close early on certain days because of cuts within that city. We take the death certificate that we typed that has the doctor signature on it and a check for the full amount of the death certificates needed (we add those charges to the funeral bill, so this is something that we pay for up front). We then bring the certified death certificates back to the funeral home for the family.
Now….. if for some reason the death certificate is PENDING you would usually want to wait for the amended (with cause of death) copies. We still have to go thru the same process, but instead of a cause of death being on the death certificate it says “PENDING”, the funeral home still MUST file it with the city clerks office. A death certificate will be pending if the deceased was at the Medical Examiners office and the M.E. has done toxicology and other tests that will take a while to get back. So here is where the problems arise. It takes a long time for a death certificate to be amended (in my county and State it doesn anyway….our county Medical Examiner is busy, we are in a major city). So we try to explain to those families who will be waiting on an amended death certificate that it is going to take a while for the M.E. to amend it. Once the M.E. amends the death certificate an application with the cause of death is forwarded to the State. The State makes the correction then forwards the corrected (amended) death certificate to the proper city clerks office. The city clerks office will inform the funeral home once they receive the amended death certificate. Once we know this we go and get the number of copies of the amended death certificate the family wants. The whole process can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 9 months, sometimes even longer! It is NOT up to the funeral home. It is NOT that we are not doing our job. It is ONLY in the hands of the Medical Examiner and once it leaves their office it is up to the State and who knows how long it sits on someones desk at the State! So calling us will not speed up the process. Yelling at us will not speed up the process! There is not one thing the funeral home can do for you. Even though the Medical Examiner knows the cause of death, doesn’t mean that the death certificate is ready. It still has to go thru that process. What I mean about the M.E. knowing the cause, some families may contact the M.E directly after so many weeks to find out if the toxicology reports are back and if the M.E. has determined cause of death. The family can purchase a copy of the autopsy report. The funeral home DOES NOT get a copy of the autopsy report! We understand that you need the amended copy of the death certificate for things like, life insurance, financial reasons, whatever but we cannot do anything, anything at all to get you that death certificate any sooner! A lot of families think that the death certificate is ready and waiting for them when they come in for arrangements. So we have to explain the process to them. We get some families who are in such a hurry to get them they keep asking when will they be available, I need them. Have to have them NOW. Well, too bad. Gonna have to wait like everyone else! I have had families ask me if they could just go get the death certificate signed and filed because apparently they think we are the one dragging our feet! Even after we have explained to them over and over what we have to do to get one signed! It isn’t always so cut and dry. We may have been given the wrong doctor information, so we have to keep making phone calls to get the correct one, it’s a pain the freaking ass! If the M.E. has the body and they are doing an autopsy, we may not be able to even pick the body up for a day or two! the doctor may only be available on certain days, etc…..So we ALL play the waiting game. Also, ANYONE! and I mean ANYONE is able to get a copy of a death certificate. You can walk into a city clerks office and present identification and pay the fee and get a death certificate on any person you wish. So, families that think these death certificates are soooooooo private, they aren’t! Death Certificates are PUBLIC RECORD! We get a lot of families who immediately say “no ONE is to get any copies of these death certificates ONLY me, I don’t want so and so to have one or so and so doesn’t need to know what the death certificate says!” well…okay. “We” won’t give anyone else any certified copies or photocopies but they can certainly go get one on their own if they wish… So there’s that!