What are Death Records in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, a death record refers to an official legal report that details the events surrounding a Pennsylvania resident’s death and other relevant information pertaining to the death, such as the date, location, and cause of the death. Death records are categorized as Pennsylvania vital records along with the state’s birth, marriage and divorce records. Some other information included in a Pennsylvania death record are:
- Name of the deceased
- City or borough, county, and state of death
- Date of birth and death, including age
- Social security number
- Deceased’s biodata, including sex, color or race, etc.
- Usual occupation and kind of business or industry
- File and registration number
- The local registrar
- Parental and marital information
- Informant’s details and signature
A Pennsylvania death record is printed on specialized security paper that contains a raised seal. Death records are useful when closing bank accounts, transferring real and personal property titles, tracking death trends, and providing conclusive data for research studies. Death records also come in handy when prioritizing medical and health-related research efforts, health-related funding, public health interventions for genealogical research, processing pension claims, motor vehicle transfers, bonds, stocks, and life insurance benefits. In addition, government agencies utilize death records to update electoral registers, passport records, government benefits paid, etc.
How are Death Records Created in Pennsylvania?
The creation of the death record of a death occurring within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania involves:
- Gathering personal and statistical information on the deceased.
- Determining the cause of the death.
- Registering it with the local registrar or the State Registrar of Vital Statistics.
Typically, this process is coordinated by a funeral director and must be completed within 4 business days after the death or after the dead body is found. As effected on March 20, 2020, it became mandatory for all funeral directors to use the Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) to record deaths. This was done to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. However, funeral directors who do not have access to the EDRS can Request for Waiver from Mandatory EDRS to be exempted from this requirement.
A Pennsylvania death record is created in three steps:
- Creating A New Death Case: Personal Information
A funeral director or any person recording the death must first conduct a Death Start/Edit New Case search to determine if another party already started the case. This is to avoid duplication of cases. The funeral director may click on the “Start New Case” button if there is no matching case. After this, all the required information should be completed accurately.
- Requesting Medical Certification
After providing the required information on the EDRS, the funeral director shall click on “Request Medical Certification” and lookup the certifier’s name. When the medical certifier of interest is found, use the wildcard symbol (%), and all facilities that the selected certifier is associated with will be displayed. Select the facility associated with the medical certifier and click the “Save” button to send the request.
- Filing with the Local Registrar
When all the required information has been completed on the death certificate, the funeral director takes the original completed death certificate to the registrar for certification. The registrar then submits it to Pennsylvania Vital Records within 90 days.
Are Death Certificates Public in Pennsylvania?
Yes, however, Pennsylvania legislation disallows the public disclosure of selected death records. Only eligible persons will be allowed access to certified death records until a specific time has elapsed. During this time, the public may obtain information copies of death records or Pennsylvania death certificates, provided they aren’t to be used for official purposes.
How to Find Death Records Online in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Division of Vital Records does not provide online access to death records where state residents can look up death records. However, the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) offered free online access to death indexes from 1906 to 1970.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
Death Record Search by Name in Pennsylvania
To conduct a death record search by name in Pennsylvania, order a certified copy of the death certificate from the state's vital records office. To do this, the requester will need to download and complete the listed application on the custodian’s website, providing the deceased’s full name, personal information and associated documents. Like most vital records offices throughout the U.S, the Pennsylvania vital records office does not provide a remote search option for vital record information or performing death record searches by name, rather, inquirers can request the record of interest online.
Death Record Search by Address
There are no known options for conducting a death record search by address in Pennsylvania. However, interested persons may query the law enforcement officers in the jurisdiction where the address is located and request police records pertaining to the address. If a death occurred at the address of interest, it is likely to be recorded and/or published by the local police department or local publication.
How to Find Death Records for Free in Pennsylvania?
Only records of deaths between 1906 and 1970 are available to be accessed for free via the platform created by the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC). Death records maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Division of Vital Records will only be available upon payment of the application fee. However, the application fee may be waived if:
- The applicant is requesting the death certificate for a deceased who died during active service or was honorably discharged from service
- If the deceased's spouse is in active service or was honorably discharged from service
Note that a fee waiver will only be granted if the applicant is the spouse, representative of the deceased's dependent child, or the deceased's estate executor or administrator. The fee waiver only covers the death certificate cost but does not apply to online service fees or UPS delivery fees.
When a fee waiver is being applied for, the applicant will be required to fill "PART 4" of the section of the death record application form that states "Fee Waiver Request". The Armed forces member's name, service number, rank, and branch of service will also be required.
Where Can I Get Death Records in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, a requester can obtain a copy of a death record at the state's Department of Health's Division of Vital Records. The Death Certificate Processing Unit of the Division of Vital Records is responsible for the maintenance and issuance of death records for deaths that occurred in Pennsylvania since 1906. Death records will only be issued to eligible applicants.
Applicants are required to provide as much information as possible to assist in locating the requested death record. Applicants are also enjoined to carefully follow all the instructions and requirements of requesting a death record. Otherwise, they will receive a certified "No Record Certification of Death," indicating that the requested certificate cannot be identified or a record cannot be found using the information provided.
The Division of Vital Records responds to Pennsylvania death record requests via any of the following means:
- In-Person Services
- Mail-in Services
In-person services are currently restricted to only a few persons at a time due to the social distancing requirements enforced to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only requesters that book appointments for in-person services will be attended to. Follow these steps to obtain an in-person service:
- Fill out a Vital Records Appointment Request Form and an Application for a Death Certificate. Send the completed forms via email or fax to the location listed on the Vital Records Appointment Request Form.
- After the application(s) have been processed, the requester will be contacted to fix an appointment.
- The requester is required to arrive at the appointment not more than 5 minutes before the scheduled appointment time and bring the following along:
- The requester's valid government-issued photo ID that verifies the name and current mailing address of the requester. Examples of an acceptable valid ID include a state-issued driver's license or non-driver photo ID. In place of the valid ID, the requester may present two documents that verify the requester's name and current address, such as a utility bill, pay stub, car registration, bank statement, or lease/rental agreement.
- Payment in the form of a credit card, money order, or check payable to "Vital Records".
Note that the requester must have a mask on to gain entrance except if accommodation was requested at the time of scheduling an appointment.
In-person services at the following Vital Records Offices are currently restricted to Pennsylvania residents by appointment only:
- New Castle
All other locations are presently closed. Interested persons may frequently visit the Vital Records website to check for updates on the reopening of the other locations.
A requester is required to complete an Application for Death Certificate and mail it to the address listed below together with the required fee payable in the form of a credit card, money order, or check payable to "Vital Records". Cash is not accepted. The requester's valid government-issued photo ID, and any other supporting documents should also be sent with the mail. All certificates are mailed with First Class Mail®, but a requester may select "UPS" as the shipping option for expedited shipping. Send mail request to:
Division of Vital Records
Death Certificate Processing Unit
P.O. Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103
Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Pennsylvania?
Only eligible applicants who are 18 years of age or older can obtain a copy of a death certificate in Pennsylvania. Eligible applicants include the following:
- Spouse or ex-spouse. However, the ex-spouse must provide the necessary documentation to establish direct interest.
- Brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister
- Son or daughter
- Parent or step-parent. A step-parent must provide a marriage certificate to support the relationship to the person named on the death certificate.
- Step-son or step-daughter (must provide the parent's marriage certificate to support the relationship)
- Grandparent or great-grandparent
- Grandchild or great-grandchild
- Anyone with the Power of Attorney
- Attorney or legal representative of the deceased's estate (must present supporting documentation)
- Anyone showing a direct financial interest to the decedent (must provide documentation to support direct interest)
- Extended family members who indicate a direct relationship to the deceased (documentation may be required).
- A representative of the deceased's estate (must present documentation to establish direct interest)
- Government office that has taken on the administration of an estate (must present a letter signed by an official of the government office specifying the reason the applicant is being retained and identifying the estate involved).
How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, a death certificate costs $20 per copy. Payment is non-refundable and must be deposited when submitting an application.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Pennsylvania?
The estimated processing time for a death certificate requested via mail to the Vital Records Division is 4 weeks. Visit the "Processing Times" portal for current processing times. Note that the processing times are determined by the time the application is received and do not include delivery time. The time may also be elongated if there are any application issues, or if it is a genealogical request, or if the application involves a court order, subpoena, or Power of Attorney.
How Long to Keep Records After Death
In Pennsylvania, the law requires that physicians retain medical records for adult patients for at least seven years from the last date-of-service. However, it is necessary to retain a death record permanently because it is regarded as the legal official evidence of the death. Also, the IRS statute of limitations for a tax return audit is three years, and this means that the IRS may randomly audit the deceased's tax returns for the first three years after death. The deceased's death record will be required to enable the audit. Generally, it is advisable to keep all financial records for at least seven years after the death before discarding them.
How to Expunge Your Death Records in Pennsylvania?
Expungement refers to a court-ordered process involving a legal record being removed to ensure the complete deletion of any sensitive record, or record that is permitted to be deleted after the record's subject has qualified for an expungement. Pennsylvania laws and statutes do not support the expungement of death records.
How to Seal Your Death Records in Pennsylvania?
There are no laws authorizing the sealing of death records in Pennsylvania.
How to Unseal Your Death Records in Pennsylvania?
There are no laws authorizing the unsealing of death records in Pennsylvania.
How to Use the Pennsylvania Death Registry
The state of Pennsylvania does not operate a death registry or a searchable death index. Rather, death record information can be obtained by querying the State Vital Records Office in person or via mail. However, the United States death registry and the SSA's public Social Security Death Index may be suitable alternatives for obtaining death record information pertaining to Pennsylvania residents. These databases are searchable by the name of the deceased as well as the date of their death. However, confidential death record information is unlikely to be listed on either.
How to Find an Obituary for a Specific Person in Pennsylvania
To find an obituary for a specific person in Pennsylvania, inquirers may search their local public library's online obituary index or contact the publication where the obituary was listed.
How to Conduct a Free Obituary Search in Pennsylvania
Searches conducted through a public library’s online index are typically free unless the inquirer requires substantial help involving the working hours of the library staff. Where this is the case, the inquirer may be charged a nominal fee to cover the cost of the research and duplicate copies (if requested).
What are Pennsylvania Death Notices?
A Pennsylvania death notice is a published announcement containing information about a death within state limits (or of a state resident). It features the personal information of the deceased and summarized details of their funeral or memorial service information.
What is the Difference Between Death Notices and Obituaries?
Death notices and obituaries are primarily distinguished by the nature and length of the announcement. A death notice is significantly concise and is similar to a paid ad, only outlining the notable details of the deceased. However, an obituary is a long-form notice that usually serves to eulogize the deceased.