Certificates and Informational Copies FAQ

The Law

What changed in the vital records law?

There are many changes made by the new vital records law. Some of the changes include:

  • Limiting the release of certified copies (or certificates) of birth, death, and fetal death records to a qualified applicant, who is the subject of the record or has a qualifying relationship with the person whose record they are requesting.
  • Requiring all qualified applicants to provide identification and proof of eligibility documentation. (Español)
  • Creating a short form death certificate that does not contain cause or manner of death information to protect the decedent's sensitive medical information.
  • Allowing the release of noncertified informational copies of birth and short form death records to the public.
  • Increasing the certificate fee to $25. The noncertified informational copy fee is also $25.
  • Making historical vital records available at State Archives after specified timeframe (e.g., 100 years for births and fetal deaths, and 25 years for deaths, marriages, and divorces).
  • Not charging a fee for birth certificates for people experiencing homelessness who were born in Washington state.
  • Adding a non-binary “X” sex designation option on vital records.
Why are there restrictions?

Certified copies or “certificates” of birth and death records are base documents that prove identity, provide access to important services (school, medical, etc.) and accounts. Taking extra steps to limit access to certified copies of records is an important step in protecting personal information as well as preventing fraudulent use.

Why are information copies still available if protecting personal information is a concern?

Noncertified informational copies cannot be used for legal purposes, which limits the use. Noncertified informational copies of birth and death records are not issued on certified paper with security features - it will contain a watermark stating “Cannot be used for legal purposes. Informational only.”

Why did the fee increase for certificates?

The fee for certificates has not increased since 2007. These fees help support the vital records system across the state and help fund the death investigations account (a fund operated by Washington State Patrol to pay for the state toxicology lab, investigations, and training).

There are additional fees depending on the method you use to order. These fees help maintain the level of service—expediting online and phone orders so you receive the records faster or allowing you to walk out with a certificate the same day for in-person orders.

What is the difference between the long form death certificate and short form death certificate?

The long form death certificate contains cause and manner of death information and social security number of the decedent. This product might be needed to close out bank accounts or claim benefits such as life insurance policies.

The short form death certificate is a new product being offered only for deaths that were registered electronically starting January 1, 2018 to present. It does not contain cause and manner of death information or social security number of the decedent. This product might be needed for transferring titles (e.g. vehicles), real estate transactions, and probate cases.

Note: Check with the agency or business where you will be using the certificate to know what information it must include prior to purchasing it.

What is a noncertified informational copy?

Noncertified informational copies of birth and death records are not issued on the certified paper with security features and cannot be used for legal purposes. It will contain a watermark stating “Cannot be used for legal purposes. Informational only.”

Note: Check with the agency or business about whether or not they will accept informational copies prior to purchasing it.

  • Informational copies of birth records contain the same information as a certified birth copy.
  • Informational copies of death records contain the same information as the certified short form death copy. It does not contain cause and manner of death information or social security number of the decedent.

Noncertified informational copy of long form death, fetal death, marriage, or divorce records are not available.

Requirements

What is required to purchase a certified copy (or certificate) of a birth, death, or fetal death record?

To purchase a certified copy (or certificate) of a birth, death, or fetal death record, the following is required for all applications:

  1. An application form with required pieces of information
  2. Documents proving identity
  3. Documents proving qualifying relationship
  4. Applicable fee(s)
What are the required pieces of information to order birth certificates?

The required pieces of information to order a birth certificate are:

  • First, middle, and last name of the subject of the record
  • First and last name of all parents listed on the record
  • Date of birth (month, day, year)
  • City or county where the birth occurred
What are the required pieces of information to order death and fetal certificates?

The required pieces of information to order a death or fetal death certificate are:

  • First and last name of the decedent
  • Approximate date of death (month and year)
  • City or county where the death occurred
What is required to request a noncertified information copy?

Noncertified informational copies of birth and death records are available to anyone by filling out an application form with required pieces of information and paying the applicable fees.

Required pieces of information for a noncertified informational birth copy are:

  • First, middle, and last name of the subject of the record
  • First and last name of all parents listed on the record
  • Date of birth (month, day, year)
  • City or county where the birth occurred

Required pieces of information for a noncertified informational death copy are:

  • First and last name of the decedent
  • Approximate date of death (month and year)
  • City or county where the death occurred
Did the requirement change for marriage and divorce certificates?

Ordering marriage and divorce certificates did not change under the new vital records law. Marriage and divorce certificates from 1968 to present can be purchased from Washington State Department of Health Vital Records office. Every request must provide an application form with required pieces of information and applicable fees.

Required pieces of information:

  • First and last name of one of the parties on the record
  • Approximate date the event occurred (month, day, year)
  • City or county where the event was filed
Did the requirement change for single status letters?

No, requesting a single status letter did not change. Please note the fee increased to $25. For more information, visit the single status letter webpage.

What are the requirements for requesting a birth certificate with no fee for people experiencing homelessness?

The requirements for requesting a birth certificate with no fee for people experiencing homelessness are the same as the birth certificate but the request is submitted by a government agency or homeless services provider working on behalf of the homeless individual to the Washington State Department of Health.

The requirements are:

  • An application form with the required pieces of information
  • Identity documentation
  • Proof of eligibility - letter on official letterhead asserting the individual meets the definition of homeless and lives in Washington state
  • Submitted by mail to the Washington State Department of Health – this is not available online, by phone, or in-person.
  • Provide valid government identification or alternate identification of the government agency or homeless service provider submitting the request.
What if I cannot provide the required information?

To purchase a birth or death certificate, you must provide the required pieces of information. On your request, please provide all variations that may appear on the certificate due to amendment, legal name change, or establishment of parentage. Check with family members for more information verify if differences exist between the information you will provide and what may actually appear on the certificate.

Qualified Applicant

Who are qualified applicants for birth certificates?

Qualified applicants for birth certificates are:

  • Subject of the record (a person who is buying their own birth certificate)
  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Parent, step-parent, or legal guardian
  • Child or stepchild
  • Sibling
  • Grandparent or great grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Legal representative
  • Authorized representative
  • Government agency or the courts if the birth certificate is used to conduct official duties
Who are qualified applicants for long form death certificates?

Qualified applicant for long form death certificates are:

  • Spouse or domestic partner of the decedent
  • Parent, step-parent, or legal guardian immediately prior to death
  • Child or stepchild
  • Sibling
  • Grandparent or great grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Legal representative
  • Authorized representative
  • Next of kin, only if no one else from this list is living
  • Funeral director or funeral establishment that is named on the record (up to 12 months from the date of death)
  • Government agency or courts if the death certificate will be used for official duties
Who are qualified applicants for short form death certificates?

Qualified applicants for short form death certificates are the same as the long form death certificates, plus these additional qualified applicants:

  • A title insurer or title insurance agent handling a transaction involving real property
  • A person that demonstrates the certificate is necessary for a determination related to the death or protection of a personal or property right related to the death
Who are qualified applicants for fetal death certificates?

Qualified applicants for fetal death certificates are:

  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Parent's legal representative
  • Authorized representative
  • Funeral director or funeral establishment listed on the record (up to 12 months from the date of fetal death)
  • Government agency or courts if the fetal death certificate will be used for official duties
What is an authorized representative?

An authorized representative is a person permitted to receive a certificate who is:

  • Identified in a notarized form signed by a qualified applicant; or
  • An agent identified in a power of attorney.
What is acceptable documentation to prove qualifying relationship?

The acceptable documentation to prove qualifying relationship includes:

  • Copies of vital records such as birth or marriage certificates from this or another state that links the applicant to the requested record
  • Copies of certified court orders linking the applicant to the requested record (e.g. legal guardianship court orders or court orders listing someone as the foster parent)
  • Document or letter from a government agency or court stating the certificate will be used for official duties (for government agency or court only)
  • Document or letter from title insurer or title insurance agent handling a transaction on behalf of the decedent (for short form death certificates only)

View the Proof of Eligibility (PDF) for examples of how to prove qualifying relationship

En Español

I am not a listed qualified applicant – how do I access vital records information?

If you are not listed as a qualified applicant, you may access vital records information in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Purchasing a noncertified informational copy of a birth and death record,
  • Become an authorized representative through a notarized form signed by a qualified applicant, or an agent identified in a power of attorney, or
  • Request historical records directly from State Archives.
What if I cannot prove I'm a qualified applicant?

To purchase a birth or death certificate, you must provide documentation proving you are a qualified applicant. You may need to purchase certificates from other states to link you to the record you want to request from Washington state.

If you cannot prove you are a qualified applicant, then you may access vital records information in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Purchase a noncertified informational copy of a birth and death record.
  • Become an authorized representative through a notarized form signed by a qualified applicant, or an agent identified in a power of attorney.
  • Request historical records directly from State Archives.

Please note, you will have 30 days from the date the vital records office asks for additional information. To avoid denial and closure of your order without a refund, you must provide the requirements within 30 calendar days.

Identity

What is the acceptable identity documentation?

The acceptable identity documentation includes:

  • One government issued identification document that has not expired more than 60 days, or
  • If you do not have a government issued identification document, then at least two documents from the alternative list.

View the list of acceptable identity documentation

En Español

How do I prove my identity?

To purchase a birth or death certificate, you must provide identity documentation. The acceptable identity documentation includes:

  • One government issued identification document that has not expired more than 60 days, or
What if I cannot prove my identity?

If you cannot prove your identity, then you may access vital records information other ways such as:

  • Check with family members who have a qualifying relationship with the subject of the record and can prove identity about requesting the certificate for you.
  • Purchase a noncertified informational copy of a birth or death record.
  • Request historical records directly from State Archives.

Cost

What is the certificate fee and noncertified information copy fee?

The certificate and noncertified informational copy fee is $25. Additional service fees may be added depending on order method.

  • Base fee for a certificate and noncertified informational copy is $25.00
  • Orders placed by telephone or online will have a $7.00 processing fee (when ordered from DOH) and $8.50 VitalChek fee (statewide)
  • Orders placed in-person will have a $13.50 processing fee and $2.50 VitalChek fee when ordered from DOH when in-person services resume
  • If you order from a local health jurisdiction, fees may vary. Check with the specific local health jurisdiction regarding additional service fees.

Please note, no refunds will be given if a record could not be located or the documentation you provided did not prove you were eligible to receive a birth, death, or fetal death certificate.

Under what circumstances can I receive a vital record with no fee?

The new vital records law authorizes the Department of Health and local health jurisdictions to release specific vital records with no fee in specific circumstances. These circumstances are:

  • A vital record for use in connection with a claim for compensation or pension pending before the Veteran's Administration;
  • The death of a sex offender, for use by a law enforcement agency in maintaining a registered sex offender database;
  • The death of any offender, requested by a county clerk or court in Washington state for purposes of extinguishing the offender's legal financial obligation; and
  • A birth certificate for homeless persons living in Washington state (only the Department of Health).
Can I request a search or verification of a vital record without purchasing a certificate or informational copy?

No. The vital records offices in Washington state will not perform a search or verification of a vital record. You must submit a complete application and purchase a vital record.

Getting a Record

Where can I get a certificate or noncertified information copy?

You can request a certificate or noncertified informational copy by ordering:

  • Online through VitalChek
  • Phone through VitalChek
  • In-person at your local public health vital records offices
  • By mail
  • In-person at DOH when in-person services resume
How do I get a birth certificate if I filled out paperwork at the hospital/birth center?

New parents complete a Washington State Birth Filing Form (PDF) at the hospital or birth center after delivery, not an application to order a birth certificate. The first birth certificate issued for a birth is NOT free and hospitals and birth centers cannot order a birth certificate on your behalf. The hospital may have provided you with your local county health department birth certificate order form, which requires a fee. If you have not submitted a request for a birth certificate by placing an order online, phone, mail, or in-person and submitted identification and proof of eligibility documentation, you will not receive a birth certificate.

How long does it take to process and receive my order?

It depends on the way you order. The time listed is from when we receive full payment and all required documentation. Orders will be delayed if information or documentation is missing.

  • The fastest way to receive an order is in-person when in-person services resume. There is an additional fee for this service. Customers will receive most orders within the same day. Check with your local health department to see if they offer in-person services for birth and death certificates during this time.
  • VitalChek online or by phone is processed and shipped within 3 days of the order being placed.
  • By mail, the customer will receive the order within 5-6 weeks after payment is received and processed.
What's the difference between a pre-adoption and post-adoption certificate?

On July 28, 2013, a new law (SHB1525) (PDF) took effect changing the requirements for an adoptee to obtain his or her original (pre-adoption) birth certificate. Beginning July 1, 2014, all adoptees 18 and older will have access to their original noncertified birth certificates unless a birth parent files a contact preference form indicating that he or she does not want the information released.

Post-adoption birth certificate lists the adoptive parent(s) and reflects any legal name change after the adoption is finalized and the birth record has been amended.

For more information on adoptions, visits the adoptions page.