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Death Regulatory Paperwork
 for San Mateo County and Santa Clara County  

Death Certificate and Disposition Permit
These instructions are provided for families in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties who wish to handle the death care of a family member without the involvement of a mortuary or funeral home. 

It is easiest for the family to manage the regulatory paperwork associated to a death when the death occurs at home.  However, some information is provided as well for when death occurs in an institution.  Please be aware, however, that none of this is easy and it may not go smoothly.  County agencies are not used to dealing with the public regarding the filing of death registration, and while we at BA-FCA have contacted them to get these instructions, they were surprised that people would want to do this, and it also means extra work for their office personnel.

The documents required when a person dies:  
  • The Death Certificate.  California law requires that every death be registered.  The Death Certificate is the mechanism for this.  California provides an Electronic Death Registration System for use by hospitals and other institutions when a person dies under their care, but when death occurs at home, individuals and families may manage death registration via a manual, paper-based process.  Instructions for this are provided below. ****NOTE however, that not all California counties are equally willing to process death registration manually, even though it is perfectly legal. Check with your county office of vital records in advance to be sure.
  • The Permit for Disposition.  A Permit for Disposition is required in order for a cemetery or crematory to accept delivery of a body for final disposition.  This permit will be issued at the time the death registration is approved.  
  • If cremation is chosen as the method of disposition of the body, then the deceased must already have signed--or an authorized next of kin must sign-- a Declaration for the Disposal of Cremated Remains. Here is an editable pdf Declaration (long download), or a printable Declaration.  Note that although this form asks what will be done with the ashes, it is not necessary to specify the disposition if no decision has been made.

Death at Home
The process detailed below covers the case where the family member dies at home under hospice or nursing care and the Electronic Death Registration is not used.  
Pick up a blank death certificate in person
San Mateo County Vital Statistics office
225 W. 37th Ave
San Mateo, Ca 94403
Office Hours: 8am - 5pm Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri 
                    8am - 4pm Thursday

Santa Clara County Public Health Dept. Vital           Records office
967 Lenzen Ave, Suite 1300
San Jose, Ca  95126
Office Hours:  9am - 4pm, Mon-Fri

A blank death certificate may be requested by anyone.  No identification is required and there is no charge to pick up a blank death certificate.  

The blank death certificate may be picked up in advance of an expected death so that it will be on hand for the doctor to complete at the time the death occurs.  It is recommended to pick it up in advance.

Fill in all the information required on a death certificate.  Do this very carefully, as any questions, omissions, discrepancies, erasures or white-outs will delay the filing of the death certificate or void the form entirely.  The death certificate information is in two parts:

Personal information about the deceased:  The Informant (a family member or anyone who can supply the necessary information) fills out the personal information about the deceased on the death certificate form.  The Informant must identify him/herself on the death certificate as the person providing the information. Look at a copy of the death certificate to see what information will be required.  

Medical information about the death:  The attending doctor or the medical person in attendance fills out the information about the death, including date, time and cause of death.  The doctor/medical person must provide a valid medical license number on the death certificate form and sign it.

A member of the deceased’s immediate family or other authorized person (see NOTE below) should return the completed death certificate form to the office where it was picked up as soon as possible after the death, but at least within eight days of the death. Office personnel will review the information for completeness, mistakes or any medical information that may necessitate involving the Coroner.  (If the Coroner becomes involved, see the website for the San Mateo County Coroner or the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner  for information on how to proceed.)  If there are no problems, the death certificate will be filed and the family member or authorized person may purchase certified copies.  It may not be possible to file the death certificate and purchase certified copies the same day, so be prepared to make yet another visit to the office to pick up the certified copies. Or you can do it by mail.  

Here are the websites for forms and instructions to request certified copies of death certificates for 
San Mateo County and Santa Clara County

Cost:  There is no cost to file the death certificate in San Mateo County.  The filing fee is $16 in Santa Clara County.  Each certified copy of the death certificate costs $23** (San Mateo) or $21** (Santa Clara)  It is usually recommended that 10 certified copies be purchased, as there are a variety of entities (banks, insurance companies, etc) that may require them.    **Prices subject to change
NOTE:  Health & Safety Code 103526 authorizes the following persons to receive certified copies of birth or death certificates.  (The “registrant” for death certificates is the deceased.)

    (1) The registrant or a parent or legal guardian of the
   (2) A party entitled to receive the record as a result of a court
order, or an attorney or a licensed adoption agency seeking the birth
record in order to comply with the requirements of Section 3140 or
7603 of the Family Code.
   (3) A member of a law enforcement agency or a representative of
another governmental agency, as provided by law, who is conducting
official business.
   (4) A child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic
partner of the registrant.
   (5) An attorney representing the registrant or the registrant's
estate, or any person or agency empowered by statute or appointed by
a court to act on behalf of the registrant or the registrant's
   (6) Any agent or employee of a funeral establishment who acts
within the course and scope of his or her employment and who orders
certified copies of a death certificate on behalf of any individual
specified in paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive, of subdivision (a) of
Section 7100.

At the same time the death certificate is filed, be sure to ask for a Permit for Disposition, also called a Burial Permit (cost is $11 in both counties).  The Disposition Permit is required in order to deliver the remains to a cemetery or crematory for final disposition.  Be prepared to supply the name of the cemetery or crematory where the body will be delivered. You may transport the remains yourself if you have a Disposition Permit.
Death in an Institution

Death Certification
If a person dies in an institution such as a nursing home or a hospital, the institution will file the death certificate using the State of California Electronic Death Registration system.  There is apparently a place in this electronic form to indicate who will be making the disposition arrangements for the body.  Usually they want the name of a mortuary for this, but the name of the family member who will be directing the arrangements may be supplied instead. California Health and Safety Code, Section 102875(a)(6) specifies that for disposition of the remains the “name of the funeral director, or person acting as such” be provided in the death certificate.

Disposition of Remains
Institutions often have regulations that specify that they only release the remains to a mortuary.  No law requires this, but the institution may face some liability if they release the remains to a family member and subsequent controversy arises among family members about the body.  The institution may therefore refuse to release the remains to a family member. Here is some helpful information on how to handle this situation.

The family should consult with the institution before the death occurs about their specific regulations regarding releasing the body, trying to arrive at some arrangement whereby the body can be released to the family or to a particular family member.  There may be waivers or hold-harmless agreements to sign in order for the institution to agree to what they consider to be a non-standard arrangement.

If the family has physical custody of the body and will be transporting it for burial, a Permit for Disposition will be required, along with certified copies of the Death Certificate.  See numbers 3 and 4 above regarding certified copies of the death certificate.  The death registration will already have been filed by the institution, so it is just a matter of getting the certified copies.
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