How to Obtain a Death Certificate in Tennessee

••• family burial plot . image by Tom Oliveira from

Most people have heard of a birth certificate – the government-issued document that states the time and place of a birth, which is often the required official document used to establish residency and identity for driver's licenses and passports. Death certificates are not used as frequently, but they are essential to obtain when a loved one dies in order to arrange for burial and/or to file the person's will in probate.

Since a death certificate is not the type of document usually required for common activities in an individual's daily life, many people have questions about them: what they are, when they are needed and how to obtain one. The answers to these questions vary from state to state. If someone dies in Tennessee, their relatives have several options for obtaining the requisite certificate.

What Is a Death Certificate?

A state of Tennessee death record, called a Certificate of Death, is a document that proves a person’s demise in the state.‌ Like a birth certificate, this is an official government document. It is admissible as evidence in court proceedings and for all legal purposes to establish the fact and date of a person's death.

What Information Is in a Death Certificate?

A Tennessee death record is an official legal document establishing the deceased's identity, the fact of their demise, and the time, date, location and cause of death.

Certificates of death in Tennessee typically include personal information about the deceased:

  • Full name.
  • Date of death.
  • Place of death.
  • Gender, race and marital status.
  • Social Security number.
  • Date and place of birth.
  • Home address.
  • Occupation.
  • Full names and maiden names of birth parents.
  • Existence of and name of spouse, if any.
  • Burial information.
  • Funeral home.

How to Search Tennessee Death Records?

The Tennessee Vital Records department is in charge of all birth, marriage, divorce and death records in the state. It is possible to search these records for deaths during the 50 years prior to the date of the search.

To search for death records, visit the Tennessee Vital Records office in person or use their online search. Alternatively, it is possible to conduct an online search by filling in the search request form and submitting it. Include as much available information as possible.

When Is a Death Certificate Required?

When would someone's death certificate be required in Tennessee?

  • Burial.‌ Burial and cremation providers before they can dispose of the deceased's remains.
  • Finances.‌ Banks and financial institutions to verify the death before granting the estate executor or a close relative access to financial accounts and assets.
  • Property.‌ In order to transfer ownership of vehicles, real estate and other property.
  • Investigation.‌ Officials if there is an ongoing investigation into the death of an individual, and the death certificate lists an official cause of death.
  • Insurance.‌ To file life insurance claims.
  • Benefits.‌ For the decedent's spouse to access pension or Medicaid benefits.
  • Creditors.‌ To notify creditors and/or mortgage lenders of the death.

Anyone obtaining a death certificate might wish to order more than one. Copies are required.

Who Prepares Death Certificates in Tennessee?

A death record is created in Tennessee when the funeral director or a person acting as the funeral director files a deceased’s death certificate. The funeral director must file the death certificate at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records within five days of the death.

The funeral director is required to obtain the deceased's personal information from the next of kin or the best-qualified person available. The medical certification of death is obtained from the person responsible for medical certification, usually the attending physician. Under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 68-3-502, the physician must complete the medical certification of death within 48 hours of death.

Generally, the treating physician can complete the medical certification of death even if the death occurred outside of healthcare facilities or in the absence of the physician.

Alternatively, the chief medical officer of the institution of death or another physician completes and signs the certificate. In the case of a "not natural" death, including homicide and suicide, the medical examiner in the county of death assumes jurisdiction over the death certification.

Who Can Order a Death Certificate in Tennessee?

Tennessee allows only certain individuals to access vital records, including certificates of death. Anyone requesting these records must be eligible under state privacy laws or their demand will be rejected.

An individual can obtain a death certificate if they stand in any of the following relationships with the deceased:

  • Parent.
  • Legal guardian.
  • Child.
  • Spouse.
  • Legal representative.

The person can expect to be asked to establish the claimed relationship with legal documentation such as a birth certificate, marriage license or probate document.

Are Death Certificates Public Records?

The certificate reflecting an individual's death is a public record in Tennessee, but certain information in Tennessee death certificates can be restricted to specific persons. For instance, the Tennessee Office of Vital Records provides the cause of death only to the decedent's spouse, parents, child or legal representative.

How to Order a Tennessee Death Certificate?

Ordering a death certificate in Tennessee is a fast process that requires only a few pieces of information. The state has three main avenues by which an individual can order a copy of a death certificate.

Each avenue has its own process and set of fees:

  1. Visit the office of the county clerk in the county in which the individual died. Follow the instructions on their webpage to order a death certificate. This may vary among counties.
  2. Pay to order a death certificate online from VitalCheck. Select Tennessee as the state in which the person died, then select the city in which the person died and the date of death. It is possible to order long or short forms.
  3. Request a copy of a death certificate using the online form on the Tennessee Department of Health's website or by mailing a written request.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate?

In Tennessee, the processing time to obtain a death certificate is shortest for those who order in person. The certificate may be available the same day. Ordering by mail or online extends the time to up to six weeks.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Death Certificate?

The fee to search for a death certificate from Tennessee Vital Records and obtain one certified copy is $15.00. Extra copies ordered at the same time are also $15.00. There is an extra fee for expedited requests. Third-party vendors may charge more.

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