Death Certificates and Disposition Permits
Most often, funeral directors coordinate the death certificate processing and collect the demographic information that is required by the state. They then enter this information electronically into the California Electronic Death Registration System (CA-EDRS).
The following information is provided for families who wish to handle the death of a family member without the involvement of a mortuary or funeral home.
To provide context, three documents are required when a person dies: A Death Certificate, A Permit for Disposition ,and a Declaration for Disposal of Cremated Remains.
California law requires that every death be registered and the Death Certificate is the mechanism for this. California provides an Electronic Death Registration System for use by hospitals, hospices, and other agencies 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: Not all California counties are equally willing to process death registration manually, even though it is legal. Check with your county office of vital records in advance to be sure.
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.
Declaration for the Disposal of Cremated Remains
Note: 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 Occurs 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, numbered death certificate, in-person from your county office. A blank death certificate may be requested by anyone and there is no charge. It is recommended that the certificate is picked up in advance so that it will be on hand for the doctor to complete at the time the death occurs.
- The death certificate form has two parts: A family member or designated survivor completes the Personal Information and takes it to attending doctor to enter the Medical Information from past history combined with any on-site testimony. The attending physician must provide a valid medical license number on the death certificate form and sign it.
- At this point, the certificate is returned to the public health department, which reviews, approves, signs, and files it.
Note: The certificate of death must be returned within 8 days of the death. The family member or designated survivor can then purchase the number of certified copies needed; or, this may be done online if the certified copies aren’t immediately available.
At the same time the death certificate is filed, be sure to ask for a Permit for Disposition, also called a Burial Permit. The Disposition Permit is required if you intend to deliver the remains to a cemetery or crematory for final disposition. You may transport the remains yourself if you have a Disposition Permit.
Death Occurs in an Institution
If a person dies in an institution such as a nursing home or a hospital, it will file the death certificate using the State of California Electronic Death Registration system. Among many things, this form indicates who will be making the disposition arrangements for the body. 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.
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 or designated survivor and then subsequent controversy arises among family members about the body. The institution may therefore refuse to release the remains to a family member.
The family should consult with the institution before the death occurs about its specific regulations regarding releasing the body, trying to arrive at some arrangement so the body can be released to the family or designated survivor. There may be waivers or hold-harmless agreements to sign.