A death certificate is a legal record of a person’s death and includes the date, location and cause of death. The California Department of Public Health issues copies of California death records from 1905 to the present. Under California law, only certain people are authorized to receive an official copy of a death certificate, including a parent, child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild of the deceased person and certain other individuals specified in law, such as a legal guardian of the deceased person, a funeral director or an attorney representing the deceased person. On the other hand, an autopsy report is generally a public record and can be obtained by anyone from the county's Medical Examiner-Coroner's office.
Death records in California are maintained by the California Department of Public Health which provides a downloadable form to request copies. For online copies, use VitalChek.
Obtaining a Death Certificate by Post
The California Department of Public Health website provides the form Application for Certified Copy of Death Record (VS 112). Download, print and complete the form, then send it with a notarized sworn statement (if applicable) and a fee of $21 to: California Department of Public health Vital Records – MS 5103, P.O. Box 997410, Sacramento, CA 95899-7410.
Two types of certified copies of death certificates are available: certified copies and certified information copies. Certified copies can be used to establish the identity of the person named on the certificate, and require a notarized sworn statement declaring that you are authorized by law to receive the certified copy.
A notarized sworn statement is a statement declaring something to be true, witnessed and signed by a notary public, a state official appointed to serve the public as an impartial witness when important documents are signed.
A certified information copy, which does not require a sworn statement, states, “Informational, not a valid document to establish identity,” and can be provided to anyone not eligible to receive a certified copy.
Fees must be made payable to “CDPH Vital Records” via check or money order, and are non-refundable under state law. If the death record cannot be located, the fee is kept and a Certificate of No Public Record is issued.
Obtaining a Death Certificate Online
The California Department of Public Health does not take online orders for death certificates, but recommends visiting the VitalChek website to submit an online order.
From the VitalChek home page, select "death certificate" as the type of record, select "California" from the drop-down box, then choose the city where the death occurred and the date of death. You have to provide a reason for your request, for example, "Genealogy/Family History" or "Legal Purposes." The types of certificates available are listed together with the fee payable. Provide personal information about the deceased person and yourself, including your relationship to the deceased, and follow the payment instructions to complete the order.
Obtaining California Autopsy Reports
An autopsy is an examination of a deceased person's body by a forensic pathologist, in order to establish disease or injury. The pathologist then prepares a written autopsy report. An autopsy report is public record in California unless it is deemed to be confidential under public-records exemptions because it is being used in a pending criminal case. If you want a copy of an autopsy report you have to contact Medical Examiner-Coroner Public Services directly. For example, if you are looking for Los Angeles County coroner autopsy reports, the department's website directs you to telephone 323-343-0512 for information.