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Death Certificates With Pending Cause of Death

What happens with the death certificate if someone’s cause of death is unknown? Here’s what you need to know about a pending cause of death status.
Death Certificates With Pending Cause of Death

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In most cases, when a person dies the cause of death is known. However, in 8% of deaths an autopsy is conducted by the medical examiner. Roughly half of those autopsies are done for forensic reasons to determine the cause of death. 

If you’re going through an investigative process to determine why a loved one died, it can complicate matters, especially if you are managing the estate. One thing you may notice is the death certificate that’s issued won’t look quite the same as typical death certificates in one key way. 

What “Pending” Cause of Death Means

Death certificates contain specific information for documentation purposes and state records. A death certificate will have the name of the person who died, time of death and cause of death. The first two pieces of information will be known in almost every instance. However, the last part is where there can be deviations.  

Death certificates must be ordered within 72 hours, but the medical examiner’s investigation into a cause of death can take weeks or even months to complete. That means the cause of death will be noted as “pending” on the certificate. This is the default when the cause of death is still unknown. It’s essentially a placeholder designation so that death certificates can be issued.

What Happens After the Cause of Death is Determined

Once the medical examiner determines a cause of death their office will update the records with the state. At that time the “pending” status will be removed. The medical examiner will also contact the family and let them know about the update. 

Any death certificates that are ordered before the cause of death is determined will list the cause of death as pending. These death certificates are still valid and can be used to arrange disposition services, access estate financial accounts and transfer ownership of assets. However, if the family decides they want updated death certificates with the official cause of death noted, then those can be ordered.

Luckily in Texas, this process is fairly easy. There is no need to contact the funeral home or order updated death certificates through the funeral home as you may have originally done. Instead the family can order death certificates that specify the cause of death online at the Texas Department of State Health Services website

All you need is a few pieces of basic information to look up the death certificate record that you want to order. You’ll also need to provide personal information to prove that you are next of kin that is eligible to order the death certificate. The updated death certificates will be sent directly to the family in about two to four weeks. Green Cremation Texas helps clients procure everything that’s needed to arrange end of life services and manage a loved one’s estate. We can help you with the initial death certificate filing and provide guidance for obtaining updated death certificates when needed. If you have any questions or would like to know more about our green cremation services, please give our team a call any hour, any day of the week.

Picture of Marlaena Gonzales

Marlaena Gonzales

Funeral Director
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