ALBANY — A death certificate is an official recording of the cause, date and place of a person’s death that is signed by a physician or coroner. This certificate may be used for a number of reasons including to settle estates, claim life insurance benefits and to claim pensions. Certified death certificates are available to applicants having a direct and tangible interest, primary family members or legal representatives of the family. Certified copies of a death certificates may be obtained from the State Office of Vital Records or any county Vital Records Office. In Dougherty County, that office would be the local Probate Court office, which is located in the Dougherty County Courthouse.
The funeral home, cremation organization or other entity 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 is to be completed within 10 days of descendant’s death. This allows each entity involved in the certifying process time to complete the certificate. Entities such as a funeral home must obtain and verify the correct demographic information, the certifying physician, medical examiner or coroner to obtain medical records. The register’s office is granted time within these 10 days to complete their section of the death certificate and file and register it with the state.
However, if there are other circumstances surrounding the individual’s death that will require further investigation or an autopsy, the process will take longer. In most cases, the completion of an autopsy can take anywhere from two to four months. An autopsy may include additional scientific testing such as toxicology and histology or an investigation may be needed to accurately determine cause and manner of death in certain cases. The autopsy report cannot be completed and issued until these acts are completed. Depending upon complexity of the scientific testing or duration of the investigation, six to 10 additional weeks may be required to finalize the autopsy and issue a report.
During the time the autopsy is being performed, a death certificate will be filed with the State’s Vital Record Office listing the cause of death as “pending.” This pending death certificate can be used in the same manner as a normal death certificate.
All death certificates, including pending, are filed with the Dougherty County Probate Court. Persons may obtain a copy there for the cost of $25. If the cause of death is listed as pending on the death certificate, applicant may return that copy once the cause of death is determined and get a copy of the one with the cause of death at no additional charge.
Certified copies bear an official stamp and are necessary to carry out many tasks after a death. In Dougherty County, death certificates are considered to be public record and can be obtained by anyone with a picture ID.
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 while making funeral arrangements. The person in charge of completing the deceased person’s affairs should ask for at least five to 10 copies. One will be needed each time property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person is claimed, 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, contact the county or state vital records office. For deaths that occurred within the past few months, 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 as well.
Applicants will have to pay for each copy of the death certificate they receive. The cost of a death certificate in Dougherty County is $25 for the first copy, and $5 for each additional copy. For more information on obtaining a death certificate, contact your local county office or you may visit www.dph.georgia.gov/VitalRecords.