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How to Find a Death Record in Washington D.C.?

What Are Death Records in Washington D.C.?

Death records in the District of Columbia (DC) are official documents registering deaths that occur in the nation’s capital. In DC, death certificates are the death records provided to those eligible to receive them. A DC death certificate contains identifying information about the decedent as well as those close to them. A typical DC death record contains the following details:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Age, gender, and race of the deceased
  • Names of the deceased’s parents
  • Name of the deceased’s partner or domestic partner
  • Last known address of the deceased
  • Date and place of birth of the deceased
  • Date and place of death of the deceased
  • Cause of death
  • Name and signature of the medical officer, coroner, or physician providing a cause of death
  • Name and signature of the funeral director responsible for the deceased’s final arrangements
  • Death record registration number

Living relatives of the decedent require copies of the deceased’s death certificate to be able to provide legal proof of their passing. This document is required to execute the deceased’s will, close their bank accounts, and claim pension and insurance benefits. A DC death certificate may also prove important in court cases involving parentage, guardianship, and estate matters.

The District of Columbia records and registers every death that occurs within its borders to better understand trends within its population. Such data are needed to estimate population growth and age distribution within the population. Metrics calculated from these outcomes are useful when allocating resources for the federal district.

Genealogists, social scientists, and medical researchers may also require DC death records for their studies. Genealogists use these documents to trace lineages and establish family histories. Social scientists use them in socioeconomic studies while medical scientists need death records for epidemiological studies.

How are Death Records Created in the District of Columbia?

The process of preparing a death record begins with the funeral director or the head of the establishment handling the final arrangements of the deceased. The director of the funeral home or crematorium completes the information required on the death certificate. They may need to speak with the family of the deceased for such personal information such as names of spouse/domestic partner and parents as well as the decedent’s birth information and address.

The funeral director then contacts the doctor or coroner that called the time of death of the deceased or performed the autopsy on the body. This professional provides a cause of death and signs the death certificate to certify their conclusions. When all details requested on the document have been provided, the funeral director then signs the certificate before returning it to the DC Vital Records Division (DCVRD). This agency then registers the death and seals the document. Thereafter, only those deemed eligible may request copies of the certified death certificate.

How to Find Death Records Online in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia does not have an online portal for accessing its vital records. Vital records are sealed for a long while in this federal district. Therefore, members of the public cannot look up death records for the district. However, they can request for certified copies of these records online as long as they are eligible to receive them. Note that the DCVRD does not directly receive online requests for death records. Rather, it assigns the task to an approved third-party record processor.

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. In order to gain access to these records, 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.

How to Find Death Records for Free in the District of Columbia

Death records are not freely available in the District of Columbia. The DCVRD charges for certified copies of death certificates provided to those requesting them. The federal district does not allow the public to access open and closed death records online or at its office for free. However, it may be possible to freely access archived DC death records in person at the Office of Public Records.

Where Can I Get Death Records in the District of Columbia?

The DC Health Vital Records Division is the agency tasked with providing vital records including death records in the federal district. It accepts requests for death certificates in these four ways:

  • In person
  • By mail
  • Online
  • By phone

Requests submitted online and by phone are processed through an approved third-party record provider. Check the remote ordering service provider section of the Vital Records page on the DCVRD website for more information. Call 1-(877) 572-6332 to order DC death certificates by phone.

To order copies of death certificates in the District of Columbia in person, you must make an appointment with the DCVRD. Make the appointment online or call (202) 442-9303. When making an appointment by phone, choose option 1 and then option 9 following the appropriate voice prompts.

The DCVRD sets some rules for appointments made to obtain vital records. These include:

  • An appointment holder can only bring one other guest to the appointment
  • All visitors must wear masks that cover their mouths and noses to their appointments
  • Appointment holders must arrive promptly for their appointments. They may be late for no longer than 15 minutes. Those arriving later than 15 minutes from their scheduled times may be asked to reschedule their appointments

To request for copies of a DC death certificate by mail, start by downloading and completing the Death Certificate Application. Enclose a photocopy or scanned copy of current government-issued photo ID. Acceptable forms of identification include:

  • State-issued driver’s license
  • State-issued non-driver’s ID card
  • Passport or passport card
  • Permanent resident card
  • Employment authorization card
  • Department of State card
  • Military ID Card
  • Law enforcement ID
  • Government employee ID

Those presenting law enforcement IDs must be law enforcement officers requesting specific death certificates. Therefore, they must also include DC Superior Court subpoenas with their requests. Similarly, employees of the DC government requesting death records must present their employee IDs. Such employees can only be licensed social workers or government representatives with pre-existing approval from the State Registrar.

A requester with none of the primary photo IDs listed above may present two of the following documents:

  • Valid unexpired employment ID card (with photo) and a pay stub (dated within the last 60 days)
  • Expired (within the last 3 years) state-issued driver’s license, non-driver’s ID card, or passport
  • Photo ID from a school in a U.S. state or territory (within last 3 years) with a report card, transcript, or other proof of school enrollment (within the last 3 years)
  • Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons photo ID or probation/discharge papers with photo
  • Signed Social Security card or Social Security Disbursement Statement
  • Unexpired vehicle registration/title
  • U.S. Selective Service card
  • Voter’s registration card issued within the last 3 years
  • Federal Census records issued within the last 3 years
  • Filed Court documents
  • Pay stub (issued within last 30 days)
  • Utility bill (dated within last 60 days)
  • Valid DC ONE card
  • W2 from the previous year
  • DD214 military discharge/separation document
  • Hospital Newborn Discharge document related to a birth occurring within the last year
  • Official correspondence from US Citizenship and Immigration Services

If the Vital Records kiosk is unable to authenticate the identity of the requester, they will be required to present one of the primary IDs outlined above and two of the following documents:

  • Social Security card
  • Vehicle registration/title
  • Utility bill (dated within the last 60 days)
  • Sealed court documents
  • W2 or filed US tax return from the previous year
  • Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons photo ID or probation/discharge papers with photo

In addition to the right identification, a requester must also present proof of their relationship to the deceased to demonstrate that they are eligible to receive the record requested. This can be a birth certificate, a court order, or an agreement signed by the deceased showing that you represent them.

Each mail request must also include, in addition to a completed application, proof of relationship, and valid ID, payment for the number of records requested. Send the completed request to:

Vital Record Mail Services
ATTN: DC Vital Records
P.O. Box 222130
El Paso, TX 79913

Do not include a prepaid express mail envelope in your request.

While the DCVRD provides certified and informational copies of open DC death records, the DC Office of Public Records also provides access to open DC death records. These are archived documents that have become public records after the 75-year seal on these records have elapsed.

To obtain copies of public DC death records from the Public Records office, visit its location at:

1300 Naylor Court, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Alternatively, call (202) 671-1105 to enquire about the availability of the records sought. This office opens to the public from Monday to Friday between 8:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Research hours are 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in the District of Columbia?

No. Death records are not public records in DC for the first 75 years after preparing them. During this period, only certain individuals directly related and with tangible interest, to the deceased can access them. Individuals that can get a copy of a death certificate must have one of the following relationships to the decedent:

  • Spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Adult child
  • Adult sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Legal guardian
  • Legal representative

Each of these parties must show or present proofs of their relationships to the deceased. A spouse, domestic partner, or parent deemed eligible must be the one listed on the death certificate. Children and siblings must provide certified birth certificates while legal guardians must provide certified court orders naming them to this role.

A legal representative must present a copy of the retainer agreement made with the deceased or any of the eligible parties, a valid bar card, and a letter on their firm’s letterhead stating the need for the death record. A grandparent must present proof that they need the death certificate to assert a personal or property right or to settle an insurance claim, a court matter, or an estate dispute. The same proof is required from any third party not directly related to the decedent but requesting copies of a DC death certificate.

The District of Columbia requires law enforcement agents seeking copies of death records to provide valid subpoenas from DC Superior Courts authorizing the release of these records.

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in the District of Columbia?

The DCVRD charges $18 for each copy of a DC death certificate regardless of the method of request. This is the same fee for each additional copy of the same record ordered at the same time. Note that the DC only allows a maximum of five additional copies to be requested. There is an additional $6 charge for a request submitted online or over the phone via the approved third-party record processor.

There is no extra fee for requesters choosing delivery via the U.S. Postal Service Regular Mail. However, expedited delivery via UPS costs extra. There are different UPS delivery options available. The cost for UPS Next Day Air delivery to any location in continental U.S. is $20. UPS delivery to Hawaii, Alaska, or Puerto Rico is $40. Delivery of death certificate copies to Canada or Mexico via UPS costs $26. UPS Worldwide Expedited Delivery costs $36.50.

The DCVRD accepts personal checks, money orders, and credit cards for payment.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in the District of Columbia?

It takes 2 - 4 weeks to process each request for a death certificate. This is not inclusive of the time taken to receive a mail request. After processing, delivery via Regular Mail takes an additional 5 - 7 days. Expedited delivery via UPS may be faster.

How Long to Keep Records After Death

Surviving relatives and legal representatives of the decedent may keep the deceased’s records for any length of time. Generally, financial records should be maintained for a minimum of 5 years or long enough to be used for any pending tax audit. Personal and property records of the deceased should be kept by those inheriting the estate to use in claiming outstanding benefits and present in court if disputes arise concerning the deceased’s estate.

How to Expunge Death Records in the District of Columbia

Expungement refers to the permanent erasure of a record. This mostly applies for criminal records deleted following pardons or overturned convictions. DC does not allow expunging death records and makes no provisions for such.

How to Seal Death Records in the District of Columbia

There is no need to take any step to seal a DC death record after it is prepared. The district seals all death records for 75 years by default. These also become automatically unsealed after 75 years. It is highly unlikely that a DC court will accept sealing an open death record after this period.

How to Unseal Death Records in the District of Columbia

DC does not make provisions for unsealing death records while they are sealed. Those deemed ineligible to access these records need to appeal their eligibility to qualify to look up or get copies of DC death records. Alternatively, they may wait for 75 years when the records become unsealed and available in the public domain.