This column appeared originally Sara Engram's book "Mortal Matters: When A Loved One Dies."
Q: Where are death certificates obtained, and how many does one need? I know they are needed for insurance purposes, but that is all I know. Is there a charge for them?
What about Social Security and veterans benefits? How does one go about securing the forms?
A: The death certificate is the official legal document you will need in order to settle an estate or establish claims for benefits. It is issued by the office of vital statistics in your city or town. There is usually a small charge, but the amount varies from state to state.
You will need several copies of the certificate, but photocopies are not sufficient. The raised registrar's seal is essential in order to make the certificate a valid legal document, which means you must pay the fee for each one.
The number of copies you need will depend on the complexity of the estate you are settling. Some deaths will require only one or two; others may need more than a dozen.
As a general rule, it is probably a good idea to get at least 10 to 12, although one financial adviser I spoke with says he advises clients to estimate how many they will need, then add 10. "You may find a need for one years later," he says.
You will need a death certificate to settle each of your insurance nTC policies, as well as for claiming benefits from an employer, transferring ownership of stocks and bonds, cars, houses, etc. In general, you will need a separate certificate for each transaction.
Obtaining a death certificate is not difficult, but you probably will need to show identification in order to prove your need for the certificate. Be ready for the red tape and the waiting in line that is part of dealing with a bureaucracy. That can make the task inconvenient, especially at a time when you are still grieving the death.
Most funeral directors will offer to obtain death certificates for you, and this service is sometimes included in the general service fee, although some funeral directors may list it as a separate charge.
If the service is already included in your fees, you should be charged only for the actual costs incurred in obtaining the certificates: the cost of the certificates themselves and perhaps a courier fee.
If the deceased was covered by Social Security, most funeral directors will contact the local Social Security office to notify it of the death. But you will still need to make an appointment for yourself to apply for benefits. You can find the phone number listed under government offices and call as soon as possible. Benefits are not sent automatically and you need to get the paperwork started.
If the deceased was a veteran, you should also contact the nearest Veterans Administration office to determine funeral benefits.