19 March 2013

Restricted Access to Oklahoma Death Certificates -- Your Help is Needed

We need your help! Access to Oklahoma death certificates has recently become restricted and efforts are underway to remedy problems that were created. If you have been denied a death certificate from the Oklahoma State Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics since 1 November 2011, please send that information to [email protected]. We have been asked by OSDH through the author of the bill to document how many people have actually been denied a death certificate since the enactment of a law restricting access went into effect. Please send any details that you are comfortable sharing.

Thank you,
Billie Fogarty
Oklahoma State Liaison for Records Preservation and Access Committee
Oklahoma Genealogical Society Corresponding Secretary

Source: http://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/e/ec/Vital_Records.jpg 

BACKGROUND: At the request of the Oklahoma Department of Health during the 2011 legislative session, House Bill 1397 was authored by Rep. Doug Cox and Senator Clark Jolley. This bill was presented as a “clean-up” bill to correct terminology and it had “minor” amendments on all but 2 of the 62 pages. It passed by both houses and was signed by the Governor on 25 April 2011 with an effective date of 1 November 2011.

The bill amended Title 63 Section 1-323 by repealing the language which allowed death certificates to be issued upon request and payment of applicable fees. The law now says that it is unlawful for vital statistics records to be issued to anyone “except to the person who is the subject of the record or in such person’s interest unless ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Notwithstanding the new law, the Health Department continued to distribute death certificates without restriction for more than 15 months after its effective date. The bill escaped the attention of all interested parties until the Health Department began restricting death certificates by memo to staff dated 11 February 2013. While they are not following the law as it is written, i.e. allowing only the deceased to access their own death certificate, they have now determined that only “authorized applicants” shall receive them.

Authorized Death Certificate Applicants
  • A surviving spouse, parent, child, grandparent, sibling, or legal guardian;
  • Legal representative of the estate of the deceased as documented by an order from a court of competent jurisdiction;
  • An individual who can establish a familial relationship with the deceased;
  • Funeral director of record or agent thereto, working in the capacity of their official business;
  • Person with a court order from a court of competent jurisdiction;
  • A person who was a co-owner or a joint tenant on real or personal property of the decedent;
  • A person listed in a will of the decedent, provided the will is in probate; or
  • Genealogist (must demonstrate familial relationship)
Under Oklahoma law, rulemaking is by the governing board of state agencies and must follow the procedures for enacting rules. We can find no evidence that this has been done in this case.

The Application for Death Certificate and the Instruction Sheet has not been changed and there is no reference to “authorized applicants” nor any restrictions mentioned. The Instruction Sheet still reads “An individual is eligible to receive a copy of a death certificate, if located, by submitting a proper death application with the required facts, a copy of current legal photo identification, and applicable fees.” As before, the Frequently Asked Questions still read “Any individual may obtain a death certificate upon written application, with proper information and identification and applicable fees.” [Accessed online 13 March 2013,  http://www.ok.gov/health/Birth_and_Death_Certificates/Death_Certificates/

Contact information:
Commissioner Terry Cline, PhD
Oklahoma State Department of Health
1000 NE 10th
Oklahoma City, OK 73117

Representative Doug Cox, MD
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Room 331
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Senator Clark Jolley
2300 N. Lincoln Blvd
Room 519
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

For the names of the members of the governing body of the State Health Department see:

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  1. Anthony D. StikeMarch 19, 2013 8:22 AM

    Of Course this is how Politicians are trying to make it easier to steal identities.

  2. Federation of Genealogical Societies Joins Coalition Urging Changes to Technology and Privacy Laws for Records Access, http://voice.fgs.org/2013/03/fgs-joins-records-coalition-senator-orrin-hatch.html

  3. They actually wrote the law so that only the deceased had access to their death certificates? And I thought California government was thoughtless.

  4. This is absurd, Death Certificates are useless to establish identity. Death Certificates are often used in probate, will, life insurance policies, and other legal matter that occurs after the deceased. The Social Security Numbers would eventually go on Death Master File which is a public record under FOIA Act. The social security numbers would be frozen once the creditors receive a report of death. Birth Certificates are more sensitive document because one can walk in DMV office and get a driver's license and submit a passport application with it. In my strict opinion, the death certificates should be restricted within 5 years after the death which would ensure that all creditors are aware of report of deceased, legal matters are resolved before any identity theft could occur. The birth certificates should be restricted for at least 100 years. However, it would be wise to create a death index for public to inspect for the purpose of genealogy. This is something that State of Oklahoma has NEVER created. If you say it's not open for a public inspection, that's silly because more than half of the information is easily found on newspaper obituaries, genealogy databases, telephone directory, social network websites, as well as SSA Death Master File

  5. This is absurd, death certificates are completely useless to establish identity. They should be worrying about fraudulent use of birth certificates. An 18 years old unlicensed kid can walk in a DMV office with a copy of birth certificate and obtain an ID or DL.