Death certificates in Michigan are an official, legal document which performs a variety of roles. It states when a person died, declares the date and location of death, and the cause of a person’s death. Interestingly, the use of death certificates did not become a standard model for confirming deaths in the United States until around 1910. Since then, it is the official manner to evidence and record deaths.
Although the document is an official record of death, unfortunately many contain incorrect information. Some of the incorrect information is minor like a spelling error. However, some death certificates contain significant incorrect information. Between 20 and 30 percent of death certificates nationwide were wrong before COVID-19, according to Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.
First, let’s address the common uses of a death certificate.
Death Certificates Michigan: Probate
A copy of the death certificate in Michigan is required (although the probate court may allow alternate forms of proof of death) to be provided when applying or petitioning for probate administration of a deceased estate.
Death Certificates: Other Uses
The information contained within it can be used for other important reasons. For example, the statistics reflected on death certificates are used for genealogical research. And the death certificate can serve as an historical record of interest to descendants into the future.
How do you get a copy of one? Death certificates are filed and retained in the state vital records repository as a permanent legal record of the event. Certified copies can be obtained to establish the facts of death in settling the affairs of the decedent. Certified copies are often necessary for presentation to financial institutions, banks, and title companies.
Death Certificates: How to obtain one in Michigan?
In Michigan, death certificates are public records and can be obtained by anyone. This is not the case in some states. To locate a death certificate issued in another state, you should contact the vital records office for that state.
Today, most death certificates in Michigan can be obtained online through VitalChek. It is a private service to order official copies or replacements of government-issued birth, death, marriage and divorce records. VitalChek charges an additional fee to use their service and accepts all major credit cards, including American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa.
Wayne County Death Certificates
The Birth & Death Records Division of the Wayne County Clerk’s office maintains the birth records for cities and townships in Wayne County.
City of Detroit Death Certificates
And, certified copies of death certificates for the City of Detroit can also be obtained by in person, or by mail at:
400 Monroe Street, Suite 605
Detroit, MI 48226
To obtain a death certificate you must have the following basic information:
- Full Name at Death
- City of Death
- Date of Death
Let’s now examine how to read the information contained on a death certificate.
Death Certificates: Name of Decedent
Usually, the name is added to the death certificate by the funeral director since it significantly reduces the likelihood of an error in the entry of the decedent’s full legal name. The medical record on the decedent often contains a name that is not complete or is somehow different from the correct legal name. The funeral director, by consulting with family, is generally able to obtain the accurate name.
Date of Death
This item is usually completed by the funeral director. However, the certifying physician is responsible for the accuracy of the item.
County and Location – Pronounced Dead
The completion of these items is usually handled by the funeral director. As the information recorded reflects the place where the decedent was first pronounced dead, the funeral director should be notified if there is an error in these entries. This section must contain the name of the hospital or institution or the address for the location where the person was pronounced dead.
The first box is checked if the case is determined not to need the review of a medical examiner and the physician is certifying to the death facts. The certifying physician must sign and enter his/her degree, title, or position in this space.
The second box should be checked if this is determined to be a medical examiner’s case and the medical examiner, or his/her authorized representative certifies to the medical information on the death certificate. The medical examiner or his/her authorized representative must sign and enter his/her degree, title, or position in this space. If the second box is checked the authorized representative must be a physician deputized as a medical examiner.
The month, day and year the certifier signed the certificate is reflected here.
The state license number of the physician or medical examiner who signs the certificate as the certifier of the medical facts is reflected here.
Actual or Presumed Time of Death
The actual or presumed time of death (hours and minutes) appears in this item. If the exact time of death is unknown, the approximate time is reflected. If the time of death cannot be approximated, this item may reflect as “unknown.”
Pronounced Dead On
The month, day, and year the decedent was pronounced dead is reflected here.
Time Pronounced Dead
The time the decedent was pronounced dead (hours and minutes) is reflected here.
Was Medical Examiner Contacted?
“Yes” is entered if the medical examiner was contacted regarding the case. Otherwise “no” is entered. The medical examiner is generally contacted when a death involves violence, is accidental, is unexpected, is due to abortion, is to a prisoner, has no known cause of death, is unattended or is to someone who has not seen a doctor in more than ten days.
It is possible that the medical examiner might be contacted but he/she may determine that medical examiner involvement is not necessary. In that situation, the medical examiner has no further responsibility in the completion of the death certificate.
Place of Death
This is a categorical description of the place where death was pronounced.
Name of Attending Physician if Other than Certifier
The name of the attending physician if other than the certifier is reflected here.
This section allows for the entry of the physician’s certification.
Death Certificates: Cause of Death
A cause of death is a disease, abnormality, injury or poisoning that contributed directly or indirectly to death. A death often results from the combined effect of two or more conditions. These conditions may be completely unrelated, arising independently of each other; or they may be causally related to each other, that is, one condition may lead to another which in turn leads to a third condition, etc. The cause of death section of the Michigan Certificate of Death is designed to elicit the opinion of the medical certifier as to the immediate cause of death and the antecedent causes, as well as the contributing causes of death.
Interval Between Onset and Death
These intervals usually are established by the physician on the basis of information available. The time of onset may be obscure or entirely unknown, in which case the physician can state that the interval is “unknown.”
Manner of Death
Deaths not due to external causes are identified as “natural.”
Changes to Death Certificates
Who can change, amend or correct a death record?
The following is who can request to amend, correct or make a change to a registered death record and what information they are eligible to request be changed:
- Next of kin to decedent:
- Personal information only
- Funeral Service Licensee:
- Personal information on behalf of the family
- Administrative errors made by Funeral Home
- Certifying Physician:
- Date of death
- Place of death
- Medical facts of death
- Medical Examiner:
- Manner of death
- Cause of death
How can a next of kin amend, correct or request a change to a death record?
Changes to the Michigan Death record requires a completed application. The completed application includes all items listed below:
- A non-refundable fee of $50.00 made payable to State of Michigan
- A completed and signed Application to Correct a Michigan Death Record.
- Photo ID of applicant(s)
- Documentation showing next of kin- suggests documents include:
- Court order
- Birth certificate
- Marriage license
- Two dated documents that verify the correction requested. If requesting a marital status change, additional documents are needed to complete the change. (See the question on how to change marital status for the documentation needed depending on what is being changed.)
Suggested documents for above changes other than marital status:
- Court order
- Birth Certificate
- Death Certificate
- Marriage license
- Driver license
- Property tax records
- Voter registration