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What you need to know about death certificates

Most people know that the death certificate is a piece of paper that officially declares the death of someone. The certificate is issued, sometimes by the funeral home, to the family or executor of an estate. As with almost any piece of legal paper, though, it's not always that simple.

If you are dealing with the estate or funeral arrangements of a loved one, you might be surprised when the funeral home or someone else involved asks you how many certified copies you will need of the death certificate. The truth is: You probably need more than one. In some cases, a certificate simply confirming a death is enough; in other cases, you might need a certificate that provides a cause of death.

First, you'll likely need a death certificate for each insurance company that holds a life insurance policy for the deceased. Most insurance companies require a death certificate that includes a cause of death because policy payouts are often limited in certain types of deaths.

A death certificate might also be required to transfer full ownership of joint-tenant accounts to the other person on the account. These type of accounts are common when spouses, family members or business partners hold joint checking or savings accounts at a bank, but joint tenancy is also possible with regard to property ownership.

Finally, you will need a death certificate to send as notification to stop certain benefit payments such as Social Security payments. It's best to handle such tasks as soon as possible to avoid receiving automatic disbursements that you might later have to pay back.

It might seem like death certificates alone come with a lot to think about during estate administration. If you are facing estate administration tasks and are feeling overwhelmed, consider working with a professional to make better sense of your responsibilities and how to carry them out.

Source: Fox Business, "Seven Tips if You Are the Executor of an Estate," Judy Martel, Bankrate.com, accessed April 21, 2016

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