Where to obtain the Death Certificate
A death certificate must be attached to any initial Nevada probate petition. So how does one obtain a death certificate? In Nevada, certificates of death are public records maintained by the State Registrar of Vital Statistics. In Clark County, death certificates are maintained by Vital Records at the Southern Nevada Health District:
Southern Nevada Health District Main Facility
330 S. Valley View Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89107 (702) 759-1000
Law Governing Death Certificates
Vital records, including death certificates are governed by NRS Chapter 440. “Upon request, the State Registrar shall furnish any applicant a certified copy of the record of any birth or death registered under the provisions of this chapter.” NRS 440.650(1). Emphasis added.
That seems very straightforward doesn’t it? There’s some very clear mandatory language telling the State Registrar that he/she shall provide a death certificate to any applicant. So it would seem like anyone could ask for any death certificate, right?
Well, not quite.
While the Nevada Revised Statutes (or commonly, “NRS”) are written and enacted by the Nevada Legislature, certain authority is sometimes delegated to state agencies to draft and enact more specific regulations. These are called the Nevada Administrative Code (or commonly, “NAC”). Strangely, the NAC regulating death certificates appears to contradict NRS 440.650(1), above. While NRS 440.650(1) indicates that the State Registrar shall provide a death certificate to anyone, NAC 440.021 says the State Registrar only has to let certain people see the death certificate. Even then, those individuals are not necessarily entitled to a copy.
1. A person who wishes to examine a certificate must:
(a) Identify his or her relationship to the person who is named on the certificate;
(b) Specify the type of information he or she wishes to obtain by examining the certificate; and
(c) Pay any applicable fees.
2. The State Registrar may allow a person to examine a certificate if:
(a) The State Registrar or the State Registrar’s designee determines that the person has a direct and tangible interest in the matter recorded on the certificate;
(b) The State Registrar or the State Registrar’s designee determines that the certificate does not contain any information that is confidential or the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy which would result in irreparable harm to the person named on the certificate or to the members of the immediate family of the person named on the certificate; or
(c) The person submits to the State Registrar a copy of an order of a court of competent jurisdiction that states that the person may examine the certificate in its entirety.
3. The State Registrar may allow a person who cannot comply with the requirements set forth in subsection 2 to examine an abbreviated form of the certificate that contains any information the State Registrar has determined would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy which would result in irreparable harm to the person named on the certificate or to the members of the immediate family of the person named on the certificate.
4. As used in this section, “examine” does not include obtaining a copy of a certificate.
(Added to NAC by Bd. of Health by R060-97, eff. 1-30-98)
NRS 440.650(1) and NAC 440.021 contradict one another. If the issue were litigated, I believe the courts would rule that anyone is entitled to obtain a copy of any birth certificate. This is because the power of the Nevada Legislature, who enacted NRS 440, is superior to the Board of Health, which promulgated NAC 440. Of course, this will almost always be a stupid fight. Thus, when you seek a death certificate, you must be ready to explain your “direct and tangible interest” in the Decedent.
Obtaining the Death Certificate
The state employees may ask you for documentation substantiating your claim. Arguably, you have a “direct and tangible interest” if you have standing to begin probate for the estate of the Decedent. This means family members, heirs, beneficiaries, business partners, creditors or those holding assets of the estate should be able to obtain a death certificate under NAC 440.021. I’ve had clients who have initially been denied a copy of the death certificate because the Vital Statistics employees felt the client did not have a “direct and tangible interest.” Usually, a phone call or letter from a probate attorney will resolve this problem. In any event, when requesting a copy of a death certificate, be ready to provide documentation substantiating your “direct and tangible interest.” Also be aware that Vital Statistics will issue an “abstract” death certificate to anyone. However, this is not a death certificate and will not suffice for a probate petition. You need an actual, official death certificate for that.