Death Certificates: Definitions, Requirements, and Purpose
What Is A Death Certificate?
By definition, a death certificate is an official government issued document that declares the known data of a deceased person at their time of death. A death certificate is a legal record of death. This can include but is not limited to, the identifying statistics of the decedent along with the specific information of the death in question such as the time of death, exact location of death, and cause of death.
What Information Should Be Reported On A Death Certificate?
Other than the identifying information of the deceased individual, there are common details that should always be listed on a death certificate. At a minimum, death certificates should include the following information:
- Probable Manner of Death: The statement on the manner of death should be as specific as possible. For example, the manner of death should not be listed as “natural causes”, but rather a list of illnesses likely to have prompted the mortality of the decedent.
- Time of Death: The time of death must be written in the standard 24-hour universal time clock.
- Known or Significant Conditions: This can include identified underlying illness or diseases that conceivably lead to the death; it can also include smoking habits or drug use.
Who Can Sign Off On A Death Certificate?
According to the Florida Statutes (FS § 382.008), the death certificate is to be signed within 72 hours by the appropriate party. The typical certifier of the death certificate is the medical practitioner in charge of the decedent’s care for the illness or disorder which resulted in the death of the decedent. The death certificate may also be signed by the medical physician that was attending to the decedent at the time of death or immediately after death. In the instance of a natural death, it is expected that the medical practitioner that was caring for the decedent (withing the previous 3 months) will sign the death certificate. At times there will be no specific illness or conditional circumstances which resulted in the death of the decedent. The signing medical practitioner or medical examiner will declare the cause of death to the best of his or her knowledge and belief. It is common to use terminology such as “probable” and “likely” for a decedent whose cause of death is not certain. It is up to the medical practitioner to use their best medical opinion at the time of signing the death certificate.
Should the case be deemed a suicide, a homicide, or an accident it is not unlikely for a medical examiner to certify the Death Certificate. Any case that is under investigation or indeterminate will fall under the responsibility of the assigned medical examiner to certify and complete.
It is required that the funeral director file the death certificate within 5 days. There is also a 5-day extension period if the funeral director needs additional time to meet with family to certify information requested. Should any supplementary evidence be discovered after the death certificate has been certified and filed, it is possible to have the death certificate amended.
The Bureau of Vital Statistics along with the Florida Association of Medical Examiners combined efforts and have created a tutorial on completing a Death Certificate. Should any medical professional be interested in viewing, it can be found at:
What Is The Purpose Of A Death Certificate?
There are many instances where a death certificate is useful, and even necessary. The Department of Public Health keeps records of death certificates and can create reports detailing leading causes of death and produce reports for public or private knowledge on information such as: suicide and homicide related deaths, infant death rates, occupational related death, etc.
The death certificate is also necessary for the decedent’s family, or next of kin, to have for a variety of legal purposes. Should a probate case need to be opened, a death certificate is necessary. A death certificate is also needed for a family member to claim any potential veteran’s benefits, social security benefits, or life insurance. Financial institutions such as banks, vehicle loan holders, credit card claims, etc. will also require a death certificate to process any requested information for the next of kin.
It should be noted that I am not your lawyer (unless you have presently retained my services through a retainer agreement). This post is not intended as legal advice, it is purely educational and informational, and no attorney-client relationship shall result after reading it. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice. If you do not have one and would like to retain my legal services, please contact me using the contact information listed above.
All information and references made to laws, rules, regulations, and advisory opinions were accurate based on the law as it existed at this time, but laws are constantly evolving. Please contact me to be sure that the law which will govern your business is current. Thank you.