How to Get a Death Certificate in California

A California death certificate is sitting on a table.

Published April 14th, 2021

A death certificate is typically required if you’re trying to claim insurance proceeds or get death benefits. In the US, each state has its own process for obtaining a death certificate. But for this post, we’ll discuss how to get a death certificate in California.

Since July 1905, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) keeps all public records of every death in the state. So if you want to get a California death certificate, that’s the place to go.

But it’s important to note that you can request a death certificate only if the death occurred within the state. If someone who lives in California died in another state, you can only request for their death certificate in the state where they died. Similarly, if someone who lives in another state died in California, you can only get a copy of their death record in California.

Unless you’re in the funeral business, this might be your first time requesting a death record. As such, it’s understandable if you find the process a bit confusing. Many people do. To help you out, here’s a quick guide:

Applying for a Death Certificate in California

There are three ways to request a death certificate in California:

  • in person
  • by mail
  • online

If you’re planning to apply in person, visit the county or city’s health department where the death occurred.

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDPH is temporarily suspending in-person requests until further notice. You can contact them or refer to their website to know when the suspension will be lifted.*

For mail-in applications, you first need to determine whether you’re qualified to request a death certificate. Next, download and complete the application form. Together with your notarized sworn statement (if applicable) and the request fee (check or money order), mail it to:

California Department of Public Health

Vital Records – MS 5103

PO Box 997410

Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

CDPH doesn’t directly cater to online death certificate requests. Instead, you can use the services of a third-party company like Instant Vital Records. Just log in to our site and enter the necessary information. Once the order is placed, we will forward your request to CDPH. All you have to do is wait for your request in the mail. Our servers are HIPAA compliant so rest assured that your data is treated with utmost confidence.

A California death certificate document.

Who Can Request for a Death Certificate in CA?

Though death records in California are available publicly, you can’t just request an authorized copy of anyone’s death record. You can only do that if you are:

  • a parent or local guardian, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, child, grandchild, or sibling of the deceased
  • a member of a law enforcement agency or a representative of another governmental agency, as provided by law, who is conducting official business
  • any funeral director or agent/employee of a funeral establishment acting within the scope of their employment
  • an attorney representing the deceased or the deceased’s estate
  • any person or agency empowered by statute or appointed by a court to act on behalf of the deceased or the deceased’s estate

If you’re not allowed to receive an authorized copy, you can still request an informational copy.

Informational vs. Authorized Copy

Both informational and authorized copies of a death certificate basically contain the same information. They are also both considered certified copies.

However, only authorized copies can be used for obtaining identification or any legal purposes. Also, informational copies may have some redacted parts. It bears a legend across its face too that says:

“Informational, Not a Valid Document to Establish Identity”

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in CA?

Because the department is usually swamped with requests, processing times for a death certificate in California can take anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks. If the volume of requests is exceptionally high, it may take longer.

For faster transactions, the CDPH suggests trying out the County Recorder Office near you. Sometimes, they process requests faster than CDPH. Just make sure to make your request at the county where the death occurred.

How Much Does It Cost?

A certified copy of a death certificate costs $21. Fetal death certificates, however, only cost $18. For court-ordered delayed registrations, expect to pay $23. These rates are subject to change without prior notice though. So make sure to check CDPH’s website for the latest prices.

If you’re making a request by mail, the department requires checks and money orders be made payable to CDPH Vital Records. Do not send cash by mail as it can get lost, misdirected, or undelivered.

For online requests coursed through Instant Vital Records, we accept most major credit cards. But you’ll have to shoulder the shipping expenses in addition to a very minimal service fee.

Lost Your Birth Certificate? Request A Replacement Online

Instant Vital Records offers a birth certificate replacement service you can use from the comfort of your home. Enter your information and our software will automatically complete the required forms for your state. We print and mail your forms along with required payments to your state health department. You can trust that we take your personal information privacy and security seriously with HIPAA compliant data storage and data encryption. To get started, simply click here to begin your application. Your replacement documents will arrive by mail to your home within a few weeks.

Judy Ponio is a professional writer and SEO specialist.

About The Author

is a professional writer and SEO specialist. She works hard to ensure her work uses accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources. She is the lead author for several prominent websites covering a variety of topics including law, health, nutrition, and more.