I recently had a probate case with an erroneous Nevada Death Certificate. The Decedent had a husband when she passed away. However, her Death Certificate listed her marital status as “divorced.”. The spouse of a Decedent has numerous significant rights under Nevada probate law. Thus, this erroneous Nevada Death Certificate was of serious consequence.
How Information is Gathered for a Nevada Death Certificate
A Nevada Death Certificate contains both medical and personal information. (See NRS Chapter 440 Generally). A physician provides the Decedent’s social security number, the time of death and the cause of death. NRS 440.380. The funeral director provides personal information of the Decedent. NRS 440.460. That personal information includes marital status, race, location of birth, occupation, type of industry, whether the decedent is a veteran and some other details. The funeral director has a duty to register the Nevada Death Certificate within 72 hours of death. NRS 440.490.
The funeral director gathers the personal information from the “informant.” The “informant” is listed on the Nevada Death Certificate. That person is almost always going to be a close family member or friend. “The personal and statistical particulars of the death or stillbirth certificate shall be authenticated by the name of the informant, who may be any competent person acquainted with the facts.” NRS 440.360. In short, the accuracy of the personal information on the Death Certificate depends entirely upon the informant. The funeral director doesn’t know the Decedent and has no way to verify that information.
Fixing an Inaccurate Nevada Death Certificate
That accuracy really matters for purposes of Nevada probate law. In my recent case, the Decedent, Mary*, had a son, Steve*, from a previous marriage. Mary and Dave* married decades ago. Dave is still alive. Dave is Steve’s stepdad.
Under Nevada law, if the estate is worth less than $100,000.00 the entire estate goes to the surviving spouse. NRS 146.070. This is true even if there are creditors and even if there is a will.
In my recent case, Steve was the informant for the Death Certificate. Steve provided the Funeral Director with an incorrect marital status. Steve lied. As a result, the funeral director listed “divorce” as the marital status on the Nevada Death Certificate. Mary and Dave never divorced. Presumably, Steve lied to the funeral director to cut off Dave’s rights under Nevada probate law. Steve likely hoped to obtain all or part of Mary’s estate.
Nevada law presumes facts in a Death Certificate to be true. NRS 52.125. As things stood, the incorrect information in the Death Certificate cut-off Dave’s rights under Nevada probate law. The funeral director and the Department of Vital Records won’t amend a Nevada Death Certificate without a court order.
I petitioned the Clark County Probate Court and requested an amended Nevada Death Certificate. I gathered evidence from Dave and other family members. The Court ordered the Department of Vital Records to amend the Nevada Death Certificate. Dave could then claim his rights as Mary’s survivng spouse.
Penalties for Providing False Information for a Nevada Death Certificate
What about Steve? He created quite a mess by lying to the funeral director! “Any person who furnishes false information to a physician, funeral director, midwife or informant for the purpose of making incorrect certification of births or deaths shall be punished by a fine of not more than $250.” NRS 440.770. I believe the penalty should be much stiffer. The fine should be greater. There should also be criminal liability.
*Names have been changed for the purpose of this post.