When a probate is being opened, one of the documents required by the probate court is a death certificate. Similarly, a death certificate will be needed when claiming life insurance benefits or collecting beneficiary designations. In Florida, there are two types of death certificate.
The first is commonly referred to as the “short form” death certificate. It is so-named because it does not include certain information—specifically, it only lists the last four digits of the person’s Social Security number and it does not include the cause of death. This makes the certificate shorter and hence the name. The short form death certificate is the preferred version to file with the probate court. In addition to confirming that the person is deceased, the short form tells the probate court certain important information. In particular, the death certificate confirms the decedent’s county of domicile (residence)–this is important because this is the county where the probate must be filed.
The other type of death certificate, commonly called the “long form,” includes the decedent’s complete Social Security number and includes the cause of death. If a person is seeking to collect death benefits on a life insurance policy, the insurance company usually requires the long form death certificate. The reason? Many life insurance policies include an exclusion when suicide is the cause of death. Therefore, the company wants to see if suicide was listed among the causes of death.
So, if there is a death, who can order a death certificate? The answer depends on which type of certificate, short or long form, is requested. For the short form, any person of legal age (18 or over) may apply for a certified copy of a death certificate.
Because the long form death certificate includes the cause of death and full social security number, it is considered confidential. It is not accessible to everyone. A long form death certificate may only be issued to:
- Decedent’s spouse or parent;
- Decedent’s child, grandchild or sibling, if of legal age;
- Any person who provides a Will, insurance policy or other document that demonstrates his or her interest in the estate;
- Any person who provides documentation that he or she is acting on behalf of any of the above-named persons;
- By Court Order.
When a decedent’s final arrangements are made through a funeral home, usually the family can order death certificates. A common question is how many should we get? Our advice is usually to get a long form for each life insurance policy owned by the decedent. Our firm usually recommends getting two short forms for the lawyer handling the probate and one short form for each financial institution which has an account with a named beneficiary or pay-on-death designee. If this number turns out to be less than needed, additional death certificates can always be ordered through the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.
The statute governing death certificates in Florida can be found at Section 382.008, Fla. Stat.