Death certificates officially mark when, where and how a person has died.
Death certificates officially mark when, where and how a person has died.

Death certificates are considered public record and are therefore accessible to anyone who seeks the information regarding a person's date and cause of death. In some cases, a fee may be assessed for accessing and having a death certificate delivered, but each state government has an office dedicated to these records and may offer free access. You might be curious about the death of a long-lost relative. Perhaps you need the information to prove your rights to an estate, or you need to provide proof to a bank, company or other organization that the person in question is deceased. Regardless of the reason, there are ways to get death-certificate information — many times, for free.

Create a free account at a public records website such as Vital Rec, provided in the resources section of this article. Search using the person's first and last name. In the list of results, find the entry that closest matches the person's name. Click on "death certificate" to view the scanned copy of the certificate. Note that in some states this information may not be viewable online. If you do not see the information, proceed to step two.

Contact your state's Office of Vital Statistics, which houses records such as birth certificates and death certificates. You can find a list of state-by-state contact information for the Office of Vital Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, available in the references section of this article.

Provide information, such as the person's first and last name, date of birth and place of residence. Depending on the state, you may be asked to provide your name and contact information as well as relation to the deceased person. Some states may require you complete a printable form and mail it to their office.

Request a copy of the death certificate. Some states offer online services to view death certificates digitally. Note that depending on the state, you may be assessed a fee for having the certificate sent to you. If possible, when contacting the state Office of Vital Statistics, ask for office hours and find out if records are accessible in person. Retrieving information in person may, in some cases, waive the fee.