Obtaining Needed Documents





Death Certificate

When a person dies, copies of the death certificate will be needed to initiate probate and the distribution of the deceased's estate and to handle various other issues.

The easiest way to obtain copies is to ask that a certain number of copies be made available by the mortuary or funeral home as part of their charge.

In North Carolina, you may submit the paperwork yourself.

There are also other ways to obtain a copy of the death certificate. The National Center for Health Statistics offers state-by-state information. They will specify the cost, where to apply, if you can request a copy online, and any other pertinent information.

Many counties now provide the convenience of ordering a copy of vital records from the county website. Your state website may offer a link to county websites. The county website should be the one where the deceased lived.

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Organ Donation

Donate Life Another consideration is organ donation. Should your family member decide to donate his or her organs, there is a process to register this decision and the proper documentation should be kept with other End of Life papers.





Personal Information

At the time of death, the executor may need to provide proof of various personal information to execute the will. This might be through a marriage certificate, military service records, employment records, etc. This type of information is often referred to as Vital Records.




Powers of Attorney and Other Important Legal Documents

In addition to a will, there are several other important legal documents that should be discussed and then drawn up. They are:

      • Living Will
      • Health Care Power of Attorney
      • Durable Power of Attorney
      • Psychiatric Advanced Directive
File Cabinet
These documents will protect the care recipient's rights and will better assure that the wishes of the care recipient are carried out. All these documents are part of the estate planning process and, if possible, should be drawn up while the care recipient is able to make decisions and make his or her wishes known.


Be aware that in 1990, Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act. This law requires hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, HMOs and hospices to inform all patients about their rights under state law to prepare advance health care directives about life-sustaining medical treatments. Be prepared. Don't wait until your family member is in need of medical services to decide what is important. Remember, your family member may not be able to make those important decisions at that time. If you want to honor his or her choices, have the discussions before the decisions are needed. Having these documents completed before needed helps ensure decisions are made outside of a crisis situation and also ensures that you have the best legal protection for patient rights available.

There are many agencies/organizations that are available to help you with the process of making these decisions and then formalizing them so that your wishes are carried out.

The Funeral Consumer's Alliance has a state specific kit called "Before I Go, What You Should Know". It provides advance directive forms specific to your state and includes a booklet called "Death Away From Home" to help should the need arise.


H.E.L.P. , a non-profit information resource for older adults located in California founded in 1996 by a couple facing the challenges of caring for aging parents. They have developed a booklet to help you make needed choices called "Your Way". Two copies per family are offered for free. The booklet is designed for you to make your choices and record them within the booklet which would then be saved with your other important documents. It is designed to express your desires related to quality of life issues should you become unable to care for yourself or have limited capability to do so. These are important considerations and need to be discussed with family members and others before a crisis event occurs.


The Center for Practical Bioethics has put together a workbook for individuals to walk you through how to think about the unthinkable - that you may become unable to care for yourself and/or make your wishes known. Often in our culture, "preferences concerning care are not expressed or heard, or they are heard but not respected". Their workbook, Caring Conversations, provides a "social ritual" to help families plan for the kind of healthcare and care you would prefer at the end of life or should you become incapacitated.


The National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advanced Directives offers a wealth of information on the subject of making legally binding choices, while competent, in preparation for the possibility that a person may lose capacity to give or withhold informed consent to treatment during acute episodes of psychiatric illness.



The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging offers an online handbook on how to be a successful health care proxy. The handbook walks you through the most likely situations to be encountered, how to work within the health care system, and dispute resolution. 





It is important that the care recipient have a valid will. If he or she does not, the state will decide the distribution of any assets per state law. A person may write his or her own will. However, to do so runs the risk that it may not be legally valid and could be subject to someone contesting the will and being successful.

To be prepared, keep several copies of the will. Give one to the executor, keep one in a safe place known by several trusted people, and keep a copy with other important documents.


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