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The Informant: Matters Relating to the Death Certificate – by Pamela Ehrenkranz

by CBJC Staff April 22, 2016

Life is fleeting, but the information on a death certificate crystallizes certain information for time immemorial. Truthful reporting of the information contained in the death certificate is, therefore, critical if the record is to be true and correct. Why does it matter? Because the personal information included in a death certificate is the basis for rights and responsibilities under New York laws relating to inheritance and the descent and distribution of property.

A death in New York generally must be registered immediately and not later than seventy-two hours after the death. It is generally the funeral director who, in compliance with the Public Health Law, is responsible for providing to the Department of Health the personal information regarding each person who dies in New York. The funeral director relies on the Informant to provide the “personal particulars” about the person who has died. The personal information that the funeral director needs to know is:

  1. Name of Person who died
  2. Aliases or AKAs
  3. Date of Birth
  4. Social Security Number
  5. Address
  6. Usual Occupation (type of work done during most of working life (not “retired”)
  7. Kind of business or industry
  8. Birthplace (City & State or Foreign Country)
  9. Education (highest degree or level of school completed at the time of death)
  10. Armed Forces service
  11. Marital/Partnership Status at time of death
  12. Surviving Spouse’s/Partner’s Name (if wife, first, middle and last name prior to first marriage)
  13. Father’s first, middle and last name
  14. Mother’s first, middle and last name prior to first marriage
  15. Informant’s name and address
  16. Informant’s relationship to decedent

It is a misdemeanor under New York Law to “refuse or fail to furnish correctly any information in his possession, or … furnish false information affecting” a death certificate.

Are you the right person to be the Informant?
The Informant should be someone who truly knows the answers to the relevant questions about the decedent and will provide truthful and accurate information. Consider these points:

  • If the person was married, the Informant should know whether the decedent was really still legally married at the time of death. For example, the Informant should not indicate that the decedent was divorced if the individual was merely separated. A decedent might also still be considered legally married if the decedent was in the process of getting divorced.
  • If the Informant believes that the person who died was “like a father” to Sally, the Informant should not list Sally as a daughter.
  • If the person who died treated the Informant like his “brother,” the Informant should not list his relationship to the decedent as his brother. Similarly, if the Informant is a stepson, the Information should not list himself as a “son.”

If in doubt – don’t guess. Precision counts. Find out the correct answers before responding to a funeral director’s questions.

The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) assists low-income New Yorkers with matters pertaining to Wills & Estates. If you reside in New York City, please call the PELP intake line at (212) 382-6756 to see if you are eligible for assistance.

Pamela Ehrenkranz is Chair of the Attorney Panel of the Planning & Estates Law Project.

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