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What Are Death Records in Washington?

In Washington, a death record is an official documentation and legal proof of a person’s death. It details the time and place of death, the cause and manner of death, and some other personal information about the deceased. Death records are usually generated by a physician, coroner, or medical examiner. Official Washington State death certificates are issued by the state Vital Records Office of the Center for Health Statistics - Washington State Department of Health (DOH). The office is tasked with maintaining all Washington Vital Record information including death marriage and divorce records. Death records can also be obtained from the health department of the county where the death occurred. Washington issues vital record information for events that occur within the state only.

The following information about the deceased is included in a death certificate:

  • Full name, including first name, middle name, and last name
  • Sex, age, and marital status
  • Residence before death
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date and place of death
  • Social security number
  • Cause and manner of death
  • Physician’s details and signature
  • Information about disposition of the deceased's remains - funeral director’s details and signature
  • Decedent's spouse
  • Decedent's social security number
  • Birth parents

Death records are categorized as vital state records. They are important legal documents useful for various official transactions. Some of these are:

  • Genealogical and epidemiological research
  • To claim life insurance benefits and settle the estate of the deceased, including closing bank accounts and transferring property titles.
  • Spouses of the decedents must present death records to be re-married legally.
  • Federal and state government agencies use death records to update passport records, electoral registers, records of paid government benefits, and so on.
  • Researchers and government health agencies use the information on the cause and manner of death to prioritize medical and health-related research.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics uses death records to gather health statistics data for the National Death Index. The data provided by the National Center is useful for monitoring death trends and calculating life expectancy and mortality rates.
  • Death records are useful in allocating funds for health-related research, and collating public health data.
  • Medical researchers and municipal and state public health programs use vital statistics from death records to better understand our community, encourage wellness, and guarantee health equity.

How are Death Records Created in Washington?

When a death occurs in Washington State, under the Revised Code of Washington Chapter 68.50.160: Right to Control Disposition of Remains, a report of death must be filed with the local registrar within 2 days in the county where it occurred. This report will be used to create a death certificate by the Washington Department of Health (DOH). Effective January 1, 2018, the DOH adopted Washington Administrative Code 246-490-200: Electronic Reporting of Deaths. The rule requires that all deaths in Washington, excluding fetal deaths, be reported electronically using the Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS).

The following steps must be taken to create a death report in Washington state:

1. Complete a death report

First, a report of death must be completed and submitted to the local registrar for registration. A funeral director or anyone responsible for the final disposition of the body is required to input the demographic data of the deceased person in the report. The information must be obtained from the person best qualified to provide it, such as the decedent’s closest relatives.

2. Get a medical certification

For a death that occurred under medical attendance, the report must be made available to a medical certifier for certification within 2 days after the death occurred. The medical certifier, usually the physician that attended to the patient prior to their death - shall report the date, time, cause, and manner of death. The completed report must be signed, dated, and returned to the funeral director within 2 days.

Where the physician is absent or unable to certify the death, with the physician’s consent, another qualified medical officer may certify the death (Revised Code of Washington Chapter 70.58A.010) provided that:

  • The medical officer is privy to the decedent's medical history.
  • The death occurred due to natural causes

For a death that occurred without medical attendance, the death report shall be sent to the coroner, medical examiner, or the local health officer to certify the report of death. The certifier must note that there was no medical attendance at the time of death. If the death is due to natural causes, the certifier must attest to the manner, cause, and date of death without performing an autopsy/postmortem, or carrying out an inquiry. The certification will be based on the statements of the persons present at the time of death or in attendance during the final sickness, such as close relatives, a nursing attendant, or any other person with adequate knowledge of the facts required.

However, if the death appears to have resulted from unlawful or unnatural causes, the certifier must note that the cause of death is pending investigation and append their signature. Also, in a situation where a coroner or medical examiner finds sufficient circumstantial evidence to indicate that a person died in a county or waters contiguous to the county, and the body may not be recovered, a report of death must be filed to include the cause, place, and date of death, to the extent that is possible.

3. Register a completed death report with the county registrar.

After certification, the duly completed death report must be returned to the funeral director within 2 days of receiving it. The funeral director files the completed death report with the local registrar and obtains a burial-transit permit for disposition of the remains. In a situation where there is no funeral director or their equivalent, the coroner, medical examiner, or local public health officer must file the completed report.

On submission, the report is assigned a local registration number and reviewed by the registrar to ensure completion and accuracy of the information provided. If it is discovered that certain information is missing or incorrect, the report will be returned for necessary correction. When the report has been completed accurately and re-submitted, the registrar sends it for filing at the State Department of Health.

Are Death Certificates Public in Washington?

Yes, Washington State is an open record state. When death records become public 50 years after they are created, anyone who can furnish the necessary information may order copies of Washington death certificates at the state vital records office. Requestors must also provide any government approved means of Identification. Only people with certain connections to the person on the record are eligible to get a certificate, ensuring the protection of personal information.

How to Find Death Records Online in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health does not have an official online repository for members of the public to look up death records. Requesters seeking online access must contact the registrar of the county where the death was registered to confirm the availability of the service. Interested parties can also search for death records through the online platforms provided by the Washington State Digital Archives for online access to death records from 1891-1943 and the Washington State Library.

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. To order online and gain access to these records from an online vendor or aggregate site, 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 Washington

In order to obtain a death record in Washington, a person must typically provide the name of the deceased who is linked to the record of interest. The Washington State Library provides an index of online death records that can be viewed by conducting a death record search by name.

Death Record Search by Address

When applying for a death certificate, either online or physically at the department of health's office. The requestor is required to provide the decedent's last known residence, as well as the county and state where the death occurred. The option of having the documents delivered to the requestor's address is also available.

How to Find Death Records for Free in Washington

According to subsection 2 of the Revised Code of Washington Chapter 70.58A.560: Fees for Certification and Informational Vital Records Act, a certified copy of a Washington death certificate can be obtained for free under few specific circumstances only. The act provides that the Department of Health and local registrars may not charge any fee when issuing a death certificate:

  • For the death of a sex offender - when requested by a law enforcement agency for updating or maintaining a registered sex offender database.
  • For the death of any offender - when it is required by a court in the state or a county clerk, to delete the legal financial obligation of the deceased offender.
  • For use as part of the requirements for claiming compensation or pension that is pending before the Veterans Administration.

Also, digitized archival death records can be viewed for free on the Washington State Digital Archives for research purposes. These records include an index of death records and images from 1891 to 1943, filed with county health departments, county auditors, and city clerks in Washington.

Where Can I Find Death Records in Washington?

To obtain death records in Washington, interested parties must contact the Center for Health Statistics - Department of Health (DOH) or the local health department of the county where the death occurred. The DOH maintains records from July 1, 1907, to date for deaths that occurred in the state. The records are issued as certified death records for legal/official transactions, and non-certified/informational copies useful for genealogical purposes or other personal uses only. The certified copy is issued in three different forms. These are:

  • Long Form Death Certificate: Officially recognized as a legal document for closing out decedent’s bank accounts and claiming benefits. It is printed on certified security paper. It contains the cause and manner of death and the decedent social security number. It is issued to authorized requesters only.
  • Short Form Death Certificate: Issued only for deaths registered electronically from January 1, 2018, to date. It is also issued as an official document printed on certified security paper. However, it does not contain the cause and manner of death or the social security number of the decedent. It is useful for title transfers, real estate transactions, and probate cases. It is issued to authorized requesters only.
  • Fetal Death Certificate: A certified death record of a fetus with a gestation of twenty or more weeks, that was miscarried or born as a stillbirth. A fetal death certificate is an official document used for legal purposes. It is issued to authorized requesters only.
  • Non-Certified Informational Copy: This death record contains the same information as the short form death certificate. However, it is not issued as a certified copy and can only be used for genealogical research and other personal uses. It usually carries a watermark inscription stating “Cannot be used for legal purposes. Informational only”. It is issued to anyone who requests it.

Note: Non-certified informational copies are not issued for long-form and fetal death certificates.

According to the Revised Code of Washington Chapter 70.58A.530, which took effect from January 1, 2021, anyone requesting a certified death record from the DOH must be a “qualified/eligible applicant” i.e they must be legally related to the decedent. Eligible applicants must provide valid government-issued IDs, documented proof of qualifying relationship, and applicable processing fees. Other requirements include a duly completed application form with required information such as the decedent’s first and last name, date of death (month and year), and the county or city where the death was reported.

Interested parties may order death records from the DOH by mail, by phone, in person, or online. Each method has specific requirements:

  • Mail Order: For a certified death certificate, download and complete the Death Certificate Order Form 422-184 (Espanol), or the Fetal Death Certificate Order Form 422-183 (Espanol). For a non certified copy, complete the Death Informational Order Form, include a check or money order made payable to the DOH, valid identification (Espanol), and an acceptable proof of eligibility documentation (Espanol). Cash payment is not acceptable for mail orders. Additional costs may be incurred depending on the mailing method. For the standard US mail option, enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope, the appropriate photo identification and accompanying documents to:

The Department of Health
Center for Health Statistics PO Box 9709 Olympia, WA 98507

A deaf customer or customer with hearing disabilities is required to call 711 (Washington Relay) or send an email to civil.rights@doh.wa.gov or ContactCHS@doh.wa.gov

  • Online/Phone Order: Online and phone orders for death records are handled by a vendor contracted by the state. Orders are submitted directly to the DOH within minutes and records are delivered within 3 days of submission, given that every information provided in the request is correct and there is no record problem. The acceptable payment method is by credit/debit card, and additional processing fees apply. Requesters must upload the required information, valid IDs, and proof of eligibility documents.
  • In-person Order: If the record is needed urgently, requesters are advised to use this method. The DOH has a same-day delivery policy for in-person requests. To do this, you must submit an application containing a duly completed Death Certificate Order Form, a copy of your identity document(s), a copy of your proof of eligibility document(s), and a check or money order made payable to the DOH. For the non-certified informational copy, complete and submit the Death Informational Order Form and a check or money order. The office is located at:

Washington State Department of Health
Town Center 1
101 Israel Road SE
Tumwater, WA 98501
Phone: (360) 236-4300
Hours: Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m

Death records are also issued by the local health departments of the county offices. Some county death records are dated as far back as 1891.

Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Washington?

Yes, the DOH issues non-certified/informational copies of Washington death records to members of the public who apply for them. However, the decedent’s social security number, as well as cause and manner of death, are redacted and it cannot be used for any legal transaction.

Effective January 1, 2021, the Revised Code of Washington Chapter 42.56.365 provides that vital records are no longer subject to Washington Public Records Act. As such, only requesters with qualifying relationships are eligible to request certified death records. They are:

  • Legal living spouse/domestic partner, child, parent, stepparent, stepchild, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, great grandparent
  • Legal guardian/representative
  • Authorized representative
  • Next of kin - if no direct relative is alive
  • Funeral director or funeral establishment listed on the record
  • Government agency or the courts - for official duties only
  • A title insurer or title insurance agent handling a transaction involving real property
  • Any person with tangible proof that the certificate is necessary for a determination related to the death
  • Anyone that needs the record for protection of a personal or property right related to the death

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Washington?

According to the Revised Code of Washington Chapter 70.58A.560, a certified or informational copy of the Washington death certificate costs $25. This includes the processing fee and a copy of the record. The payment is non-refundable, irrespective of whether the record is found or not. At the county level, the costs may vary. For instance, Tacoma-Pierce County Vital Records Office charges $29 per certified copy for in-person orders - with an additional $2 processing fee and $2 same day pick-up fee. Requesters who wish to order death records directly from the county where the death occurred may contact the county’s local health department or the recorder’s office for payment details.

The Department of Health accepts certified checks/money orders for mail requests and cash payment for in-person requests, although in-person service is currently suspended to observe the Covid-19 pandemic safety precautions. For online/phone orders, the vendor accepts credit/debit card payment and charges $37 per copy, including fees for online processing. Typically, additional charges of $15 - $26.30 apply to cover the cost of shipping, especially if a requester requires expedited delivery. All payments must be made payable to the DOH.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Washington?

It takes between one day and 3 weeks to receive a death record from the Washington State Department of Health, depending on the way the record was ordered. Records ordered in person are usually received the same day, while mail-in orders take 3 weeks to process and deliver. For online and phone orders, requests are processed and delivered within 3 days.

Delivery time is calculated from the time the department receives full payment and all required documentation. Incomplete and wrong information may delay orders. At the county level, request processing and delivery time are county-specific. For instance, Columbia County Vital Records Office issues death certificates within 72 hours of receiving requests. Check with the local health department or visit the vital records webpage of the county of interest for details.

How Long to Keep Records After Death

Washington death records are permanent legal records, hence, they are kept indefinitely. Under the Preservation of Vital Records Act (Revised Code of Washington Chapter 70.58A.510), the state registrar must implement a management policy that provides for permanent preservation of vital records, effective January 1, 2021. Then, after 25 years from the date of death, custody of death records must be transferred to the State Archives for permanent retention. This means that death records are never destroyed in Washington State.

How to Expunge Death Records in Washington

Washington does not have any provision for expunging death records. Expungement refers to the process of officially purging/deleting a record or part of it so that it does not show up during background checks. Since a death record is not a criminal record but an important part of the state's vital statistics, it does not qualify for expungement.

How to Seal Death Records in Washington

In Washington, record sealing does not apply to death records. Sealing is the process of legally restricting access to a piece of information in a record or the whole record itself. A court of competent jurisdiction must be petitioned to get an order to seal a record. However, some records are automatically sealed by the state to protect the privacy of the record owner. A typical example includes court hearings, files, and records of juvenile offenders. These are generally sealed from public access by the state. However, Washington does not restrict public access to death records and does not have rules allowing anyone to seal these vital records.

How to Unseal Death Records in Washington

The State of Washington has no provision for unsealing death records.

How to Find an Obituary for a Specific Person in Washington

Interested parties can find death dates, obituary citations, and obituary research services in Washington State using a list of resources compiled by the Washington State Library. These links provide obituaries from every county in the state as well as the entire state. A Washington obituary search of these obituary indexes or databases can be made by either providing comprehensive details about the person, such as full name, place of death, and date of death, or by providing details on the publication that the obituary is from.

How to Conduct a Free Obituary Search in Washington

Interested individuals can conduct a free Obituary search by using Resources for the Washington State cemeteries & obituaries. Links to these resources are available on the Washington state library website. Most of these resources are free to use. Recent obituaries can be found, by searching the archives on the newspaper website of the town where the person lived and/or died.

What are Washington Death Notices?

A Washington death notice is a small, concise, and printed announcement to the public, announcing the person's passing. Death notices are usually published in local newspapers, the newspaper in the county where the deceased passed away, or both. It will contain the decedent's name, birthdate, and death date. It is an official announcement made to the public that someone has passed away. It can also go by the name of death announcement.

What is the Difference Between Death Notices and Obituaries?

A death notice is only a summary of essential information about a deceased individual, whereas the obituary is a longer, more in-depth look into the life of the departed person. Another distinction is, the family of the deceased usually writes death notices whereas obituaries are prepared by the editor of the newspaper or publication.

What is the Difference Between a Death Certificate and Other Death Records?

A death certificate is a legal document that the government issues that states the deceased's cause of death, where they died, when they died, and other details. The most significant legal document accessible is the Washington death certificate. It is the sole legitimate evidence of death. Washington death certificate is the only type of death record that is employed by the State to halt pensions, social security payments, and other benefits. It is used by families to settle disputes.

Death records for the state of Washington are available as non-certified informational copies for personal use or as certified copies for legal purposes. Other death records, such as an autopsy report or a death verification, do not contain as much information as a death certificate and cannot be used in court to fulfill legal obligations.