Death Certificate Issues
By: T. SCOTT GILLIGAN, OFDA GENERAL COUNSEL
In the past month, OFDA has fielded a number of questions from members on death certificate issues. Since these issues may arise for other members, we have prepared the following Q & A article on death certificates.
- In the case of a fetus that died before the 20 weeks gestation period, does Ohio now require a fetal death certificate?
In 2008, the Ohio legislature enacted the Grieving Parents Act. That law changed Section 3705.20 of the Ohio Revised Code governing fetal death certificates. Prior to the passage of the Grieving Parents Act, a fetal death certificate was only available for a fetus of at least 20 weeks gestation. There was no method by which parents could obtain a fetal death certificate for a fetus under the 20 week gestation cut-off.
The Grieving Parent Act amended the law to allow a fetal death certificate to be issued on application of either parent for a fetus that was under the 20 week gestation period. The fetal death certificate does not have to list the cause of death. In applying for the certificate, the mother must include with the application the written statement provided by the hospital which confirms that the woman was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage that resulted in a fetal death. If the father submits the application for the death certificate, he is required to have a signed and notarized document from the mother attesting that the mother voluntarily provided the copy of the statement to the father.
Therefore, while Ohio does not require a fetal death certificate for a fetus that is under 20 weeks gestation, it does allow such a certificate to be issued upon the application of either parent. There is no requirement that the parents be married in order for the father to make the application.
- Does the registrar have to issue a burial permit for a fetus where the fetus was under the 20 week gestation period?
The Grieving Parents Act added a new provision to Section 3705.20 which requires the local registrar to issue a burial permit for a fetus that died prior to 20 weeks of gestation if either parent files the fetal death certificate with the registrar. The issuance of the burial permit allows the fetus to be interred in a cemetery or cremated.
- With funeral homes filing electronic death certificates, how does a family, who is arranging the funeral without using a funeral home, obtain a death certificate?
The Ohio Office of Vital Statistics has established guidelines for a family to obtain a death certificate without the assistance of a funeral home. A copy of the guidelines may be obtained on the website of the Ohio Department of Health at www.vitalsupport.odh.ohio.gov. The guidelines include a checklist for registration of the death without the participation of a funeral home. The family member must fill out an information sheet on the decedent and then obtain a statement attesting to the death from a physician, coroner or medical examiner. Those two documents would then be faxed to the Ohio Office of Vital Statistics at 614-728-9181. The Office of Vital Statistics would review the materials and, if they are complete, submit them to the electronic death registration system. If more information was needed, Vital Statistics would contact the family member.
- Three years ago, we handled the funeral of a man whose daughter told us he was divorced. We have now been contacted by a woman who claims to be his spouse and who alleges that they were never divorced. She is demanding that we amend the death certificate and list her as his widow so that she can obtain a death benefit from his pension fund. Are we required to amend the death certificate?
No. The funeral home did not contract with the former spouse so it has no obligation to assist her with her request to amend the death certificate. Furthermore, the funeral home would have no way to verify whether the spouse was divorced or not at the time of the decedent’s death. The funeral home should advise the woman that she can file an application to correct the death certificate herself without the assistance of the funeral home.
Except in the case of the date of death or the cause of death, anyone can apply to correct a death certificate in Ohio, whether or not they are related to the individual who died. However, only the attending doctor, coroner or funeral director listed on the death certificate can change the date of death. If there are disputes regarding corrections on the death certificate, the conflict must be resolved by the Probate Court.
- How does a family member amend a death certificate without the participation of the funeral home that filed the death certificate electronically?
Family members should be advised to contact the Ohio Office of Vital Statistics at 614-466-2531 or by e-mail at VitalStat@odh.ohio.gov. The family member should obtain from the Office of Vital Statistics a copy of a Correction of Death Record Affidavit. Vital Statistics will mail or fax the Affidavit to the family member.
The family member will be required to complete the Affidavit listing the name of the person who died, the date of death, and the city and county where the death occurred. The family member can then make up to five corrections on the form.
OFDA members with questions regarding death certificates can find helpful information on the OFDA website or the website of the Ohio Department of Health. Of course, members may also contact Scott Gilligan at 513-871-6332 for assistance.