Getting a North Carolina Death Certificate:
What You Need to Know

How do I get a death certificate?

To get a copy of a death certificate go to the NC Vital Records website, but FIRST there are some questions you need to ask.

  1. Has the death certificate been completed and submitted to the Health Department or Vital Records?
  2. Is the death certificate pending?
  3. Where do I get copies?

Let’s take these one at a time.

Has the death certificate been completed and submitted to the Health Department?

The funeral home or crematory should be able to answer this questions for you. The death certificate needs to be filed within 5 days of death. This means that the funeral home has to receive the death certificate from the physician, nurse, or physician’s assistant that is signing it. This will include the cause and manner of death and that person’s signature. The rest of the death certificate will require information from the next of kin, which may be you. Then the funeral home or crematory will submit it to the Health Department. The Health Department then needs to process it. This can take several weeks and depends on the Health Department in your area.

Is the death certificate pending?

A pending death certificate can only be signed by a medical examiner. For details on the medical examiner system, see So Your Loved One is a Medical Examiner Case. What does pending mean? Pending means that the cause and/or manner of death says “pending”. This is not the cause of death, but a place holder while more information is gathered, since the death certificate needs to be filed before the information is available. There are many reasons why a pending certificate might be issued and it does not mean that there is anything suspicious about the death. The medical examiner may be waiting for toxicology (drug testing) results, medical records from a doctor or hospital, or additional information from an autopsy.
Why is this important? A pending death certificate cannot be used for some deeds or titles and certain insurance policies. These policies may not pay until they get a death certificate with a cause and manner of death. The funeral home or insurance company should be

Where do I get copies?

First, be sure that you get enough copies, but you can always order more. In order to cancel some services, a certified death certificate isn’t needed. In those cases, a copy will suffice. The prices aren’t terrible and you can get them one of two ways. Many funeral homes offer it as a service. You pay them a certain amount and they will follow up with obtaining the death certificate and getting you the correct number of copies. This is by far, the easiest way. If you would like to save a little money, you can always get them from Vital Records on your own. It just may be a little more frustrating, especially if the death certificate is pending.
Due to COVID-19, it may take a little longer for them to process your order once the death certificate has been filed, but you can always pay a little more to have it expedited if needed.

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