News & Insights

New York Expands Access to Death Certificates

At the end of every year, New York’s Governor signs a large number of bills that were passed by the legislature throughout the year. While some of these bills grab headlines, others are more technical but can still make a significant practical difference to those affected by the bill. One such case is New York’s Public Health Law 4174 which was amended at the end of 2023 to expand access to a decedent’s death certificate.

A death certificate provides relevant details regarding a deceased individual including place and cause of death, address of residence and parent and family member information. It is a critical document that is required to take many necessary steps, such as arranging for burial, claiming insurance benefits, closing bank accounts and obtaining authority to act.

Prior to the law’s amendment, the statute limited access to a death certificate to the decedent’s spouse, children, siblings or parents. A nominated executor or administrator of the estate could also get the death certificate. Outside of those groups, an individual was required to show a “documented need” for the death certificate, such as to establish a legal right or claim. 

The statute now grants access to domestic partners, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews of the decedent. The change not only shows respect for long-standing relationships that did not result in marriage, but also recognizes the reality that many people do not have children, and may leave assets to individuals outside their immediate family. 

Under the prior law, such individuals had an additional burden in obtaining non-probate assets that were left to them. For example, if they were beneficiaries of a life insurance policy, they would have to wait for the executor or administrator of the estate to provide a death certificate so they could give it to the life insurance company and be paid the insurance proceeds or would have to submit documentation to establish their need for a death certificate for review by the issuing authority. Thanks to the amended law, a beneficiary who falls into one of the new categories can obtain the death certificate without delay.

If you are having trouble obtaining a death certificate or need assistance with probate or estate administration, contact one of our attorneys to discuss your matter.