The reasons to look up a death record are many---from research to family business---and as of 2010 it's never been easier. The first place to check is online at the government's free website that directs you to each of the 50 states' registries of births and deaths. For uncommon names, the name and last state of residence is all you need, but a date of birth will help you home in on the right Smith or Jones. If you're still coming up empty, check the registrar's office in the county of death and then the local newspaper for an obituary.
Navigate online to the U.S. government's official portal of public information, Search.USA.gov. Merely doing a search of the Internet will bring up mostly pay websites that locate the deceased by means available to all.
Type "death records" and the last state of residence for the deceased into the search box and press "Search." The U.S. website will direct you to the website handling death records for the deceased's last state of residence. Each state is required to keep these records.
Click on "Death records" or the equivalent to see how this particular state handles the viewing of death records. You may be able to view the death certificate online, or at least apply to have one mailed to you and make the payment via credit card. If not, the state will specify the procedure for viewing the death record, either by calling or visiting the office.
Contact the department of health for the deceased's last county of residence. This is the agency usually tasked with registering birth and death records in each state. Ask for its procedure to view a death record.
Contact the main local newspaper in the area where the deceased died. You can usually see an obituary that was written about the deceased online or via mail.