Death is a subject most people don’t want to focus on, especially when a loved one passes away. While death is a touchy subject, the cause of death is even trickier to navigate. In many cases, someone’s cause of death is public record – eventually. It may take decades to become a public record, but the cause of death for most people is available to the public in most states. In fact, many states grant access to death records soon after someone dies.
Still, gaining access to someone’s cause of death is easier said than done. First, you need to know if the cause of death is available in your state. Then, you need to search through the proper database to find their relevant information. If you don’t know where to look, finding someone’s death records is almost impossible.
Fortunately, public records database search tools like Information.com make finding this information a breeze. Read on to learn more below.
Cause of Death Explained
Legally, cause death refers to the conditions that led to the death of a human. The cause of death is only recorded by people with the power to do so. This includes doctors and people who perform autopsies. There are various causes of death, ranging from illness to violence. Death may also be recorded as accidental or suicide.
When a cause of death is recorded, it’s a component of information found through someone’s death certificate. So having access to the death certificate will help you gain access to someone’s cause of death and other important records.
The cause of death is recorded by the International Classification of Disease (ICD) for record-keeping. The ICD lists this information within several databases. You can also find paper files at the county clerk’s office.
Is the Cause of Death Public Record?
The cause of death may not be a public record depending on your state. Additionally, some states may only allow access to death certificates and the cause of death if someone requests access to that information. In these cases, information about the cause of death is only granted for research purposes or if it’s a close relative requesting the information.
In states where the cause of death is considered a public record, it becomes public after a defined period. For example, Delaware has a rule that death certificates become public records after 40 years. On the other hand, states like Florida allow access to death certificates immediately.
Are Autopsy Records Public Records?
Autopsy records are not public records. An autopsy is considered a medical procedure, so the information is confidential. However, close relatives and next of kin can access autopsy records. In many cases, the autopsy is the best way to determine someone’s cause of death in the event of random or accidental death.
Therefore, the status of an autopsy being a public record depends on how close you are to the person who died.
What States Have Public Records for Cause of Death?
Depending on your state, there are many methods to find someone’s cause of death. However, each state has different rules regarding death certificates and their availability.
We’ll take you through the time it takes for death certificates and cause of death to become public record in each state listed below:
- Alabama: After 25 years
- Alaska: After 50 years
- Arizona: Available for friends or family members
- Arkansas: Only for research purposes (FOIA exempt) and for immediate family members
- California: Public record when listed
- Colorado: Death records are confidential
- Connecticut: Only for research and family members; or other tangible interests
- Delaware: After 40 years
- Florida: Cause of death is confidential
- Georgia: Only for family members
- Hawaii: Only for research or close family
- Idaho: After 50 years
- Illinois: Only for family members
- Indiana: Only for family members and in some research-focused situations
- Iowa: Only for family members
- Kansas: Not available to the public
- Kentucky: Only for family members
- Louisiana: Only for immediate family and funeral homes; for funeral homes it’s only available for one year
- Maine: People who are the custodians of birth certificates and other records
- Maryland: Only for spouses or immediate family members
- Massachusetts: Only for family members
- Michigan: No restrictions
- Minnesota: No restrictions
- Mississippi: Only available for tangible interests
- Missouri: Only available to family members
- Montana: Public record
- Nebraska: Public record if there’s tangible interest
- Nevada: Open to the public in most circumstances
- New Hampshire: Available for family members
- New Jersey: With the valid available information
- New Mexico: After 100 years
- New York: Only for family members
- North Carolina: Only for people with tangible reasons
- North Dakota: Confidential to anyone but the family
- Ohio: Public record
- Oklahoma: Only for friends and family
- Oregon: Available 50 years after death; exceptions for family members
- Pennsylvania: With direct interest in the deceased party
- Rhode Island: Confidential except for insurance companies
- South Carolina: Only for family members
- South Dakota: Public record
- Tennessee: Only available for family members
- Texas: Available 25 years after the death
- Utah: Available with a tangible interest
- Vermont: Public record with a few exceptions
- Virginia: Public record with exceptions
- Washington: Public record for family members
- West Virginia: Public record for family members and people with a tangible interest
- Wisconsin: Public record except for injuries and cause of death
- Wyoming: Public record
Always check your state’s laws to determine if the cause of death is a public record.
How To Find Someone’s Cause of Death
Finding someone’s cause of death is easier said than done. Depending on your state, you’ll have to navigate a few databases or request information from the county clerk’s office. Furthermore, you can always reach out to friends and family members to see if they’re forthcoming with that information.
We’ll take you through the necessary steps to find someone’s cause of death.
Reach Out to the Family Members
Reaching out to family members is typically the best way to find someone’s cause of death. If you’re close with someone’s family or friends, they might tell you the cause of death if you ask them.
When asking someone’s family about the cause of death, make sure you go about it the right way. Make sure you express empathy and don’t argue with anyone if they don’t want to share the death certificate. If it’s not a public record, it’s not always your right to know.
That said, we have some tips to help you ask for the cause of death in the sincerest ways possible.
- Wait for an appropriate time to ask – give the family a few days or weeks to cope with their loss before asking
- Don’t use the words “death,” “died,” or another morbid phrase when asking. Instead, ask innocently if they know what happened
- Ask the family if they need anything before asking for the cause of death—and genuinely be prepared to help
- Express empathy and apologize for their loss
Keep in mind that asking someone’s family for the cause of death is awkward and sometimes even rude, especially if you’re not close to the family or the deceased. Therefore, it’s a good idea to use a people search engine like Information.com first. If you can’t find any information online, then consider asking family members or relatives.
Perform a Public Records Search Request Information
Asking the family is one of the fastest ways to find someone’s cause of death, but it’s not always the best way. If you don’t know the family, for example, asking them for the cause of death is not recommended. In fact, we advise against asking because it makes situations and conversations uncomfortable.
Fortunately, people search engines like Information.com help you find all the information you need about someone. You don’t need to ask any of the difficult questions, and you can run the search with only their first and last name. Information.com also has a public database search tool, which organizes information from thousands of databases across the United States.
When running a people search one someone, you’ll find information like:
- Death certificates
- Birth certificates
- Known addresses and past addresses
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Social media accounts
- Criminal background
- Traffic violations
- Court documents
Still, someone’s cause of death is not always a public record, which means you can’t find it with a people search engine. In these cases, you’ll need permission from the country clerk to use the cause of death for research. Additionally, you can ask the family for more information.
It can also take time for these records to be submitted online, so the database may not reflect a cause of death for a while after someone has died.
From State Databases
Another way to find someone’s cause of death is to use a state database. Each state has online databases that contain information about someone’s cause of death and death certificates. While some states provide access to death records immediately after someone dies, other states have waiting periods of up to 50 years.
Most states also have physical files of death records. You must visit the county clerk’s office to obtain these files. If permission is granted, the clerk will provide you with someone’s death certificate and cause of death.
If the allotted time has passed, you can visit your state’s directory to search for someone’s death certificate. On the other hand, some states will only have information available to close family members.
Overall, the cause of death is a public record that almost anyone can access, but the rules depend on the state. The only situations where someone’s cause of death is not available are when an investigation is ongoing or if you live in a state that has clauses against disclosing the cause of death.
Still, you need to look in the right places if you want to access someone’s death records. For this reason, we always recommend using Information.com’s public records database search tool. It helps you navigate thousands of databases to pull a full report about someone’s life and their cause of death.