Death Certificate File Copies: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

A troublesome admonition appears in bold print on every Pennsylvania death certificate: “WARNING: It is illegal to duplicate this copy by photostat or photograph.”

Does that mean I’ll get in trouble if I make a photocopy for my file?

No, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In a letter issued in 2005, Charles Hardester, Director of the Department’s Division of Vital Records, says it’s fine to fax or scan a death certificate, or make your own file copy:

“I am in receipt of your letter [from an inquiring attorney] dated March 15, 2005 concerning the faxing and scanning of death certificates. 

“Please let me refer you to 28 Pa. Code § 1.44:

“ ‘Subject to [certain] penalties […], no person may photograph, photostat, duplicate or issue what purports to be a certified copy, certification or certificate of birth, death or fetal death except for authorized employees of the Department of Health or its local registrars of vital statistics acting in accordance with directives, regulations or law governing their official duties.’

“We have interpreted this regulation to mean that no person may duplicate in any format an official certified copy of death and attempt to use or distribute that copy in lieu of an official certified copy of death issued by the department or local registrar of legal issues.  

“Further, we do recognize the necessity of official certified copies of death being part of an official file or record.  Therefore, we do not see the reproduction of a certified copy of death as a file copy in violation of the regulation as long as it is part of the official file and not intended to be used for legal purposes.  Be aware though, the entity receiving the scanned or faxed copy without seeing the original, might be at risk should the ‘original’ not be authentic.”

When administering an estate, it’s often convenient to provide information on a death certificate by fax, scan, or photocopy. That won’t be a problem if you follow these guidelines.