Understanding the difference between a death certificate and a cause of death certificate can be confusing. Despite having similar names, these two documents have different functions after a loved one has died. This article explains the difference between the two and how to obtain them.

What is a Cause of Death Certificate?

A cause of death certificate, or its proper title Medical Certificate Cause of Death, is the document needed before any funeral director can take the deceased person into their care. It is also the document required to register the death and apply for an official death certificate.

The funeral director will contact a doctor to verify the cause of death and process the certificate. In most instances, the deceased person’s family or next of kin will not need to be involved.

What is a death certificate?

When someone dies in Australia, their death needs to be registered with the office of Births Deaths and Marriages. However, the death cannot be registered until after the cremation or burial has taken place.

A death certificate is proof of death needed for the deceased person’s executor or administrator to manage the legal and financial matters as part of probate or the estate administration process. To learn more about estate administration, read our 10-Step Guide to Deceased Estates here.

How do I get one?

The funeral director will provide the family/next of kin with all the forms that must be filled in. At Bare Cremation, we have automated much of the paperwork so it may be done easier and quicker online without needing a printer or scanner. However, if paper is preferred, we can mail out the documents to fill in and send back.

Once the forms have been completed, the funeral director will take care of registering the death with the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages on behalf of the family or next of kin, and apply for the death certificate. If you have arranged the cremation through Bare, we will mail the death certificate to you. Otherwise the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages will mail it directly to the person nominated as the informant, generally the executor or senior next of kin.

It generally takes two to four weeks to arrive. At times, it can take longer if there is a delay in processing by the state authority. If the Coroner is involved, the official death certificate will take longer to process as it may take some time to establish the cause of death.

Can I use a cause of death certificate while I’m waiting for the death certificate?

No. The cause of death certificate cannot be used in place of a death certificate.

In some states, an interim death certificate can be applied for if the family/next of kin is waiting for the Official Death Certificate if the Coroner is involved and yet to determine the cause of death.

An interim death certificate is a legal death certificate and has all the necessary information on it except for the cause of death. This can be used as a legal document until the final certificate is ready. Your funeral director can also apply for this on your behalf.

Legal support

If you need help with probate or with administering a deceased person’s estate, our estate experts at Bare Law are here to help.

Bare Law is an end-of-life law firm specialising in estate planning and estate administration. Our focus allows us to provide specialised estate services, at a fraction of the cost traditional law firms charge.

For a free, no-obligation chat, speak with our estate lawyers on 1800 959 371.