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How to Find a Death Record in Wisconsin?

What Are Death Records in Wisconsin?

A Wisconsin death record also referred to as a death certificate, is an official evidence of a death that occured in the state. It details the decedent's personal information and events surrounding the death. A typical Wisconsin death record is divided into six parts, with each part containing specific information on the death. These include information on the deceased, parents, cause, accident (if any), certification, and burial. Generally, some of the information contained in a Wisconsin death record are:

  • Decedent's full name
  • Decedent's biodata, including sex, color or race, etc.
  • Place of birth and death
  • Date of birth and death, including age
  • Parental and marital information
  • Social security number
  • Residential information before death
  • Usual occupation, including kind of business or industry
  • State File Number
  • Cause of death
  • Physician’s certification
  • Informant’s details

Death records are considered vital records and are required when transferring real and personal property titles, closing bank accounts, monitoring death trends, and gathering data for research studies, and processing pension claims, motor vehicle transfers, bonds, stocks, and life insurance benefits. Furthermore, death records are used to prioritize health-related funding, medical and health-related research efforts, and public health interventions for genealogical research. Also, government agencies use death records to amend electoral registers, passport records, government benefits paid, etc.

How are Death Records Created in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a death record is only created based on a death that occured in the state or a case where a corpse is found in the state, was removed in the state from a conveyance that was moving at the time of death, or was found in interstate waters and removed in Wisconsin. The process of death registration is defined by Wisconsin Statutes 69.18. It is conducted at the registration district of death or with the Wisconsin Statewide Vital Record Information System (SVRIS). The SVRIS is an automated, secure web-based software application structured to process vital records, including death records, from start to finish.

A Funeral Director handles the death record creation process with the SVRIS from the point of gathering information and certification to the State File Number registration and assignment. Note that death registration can also be done by a member of the decedent's immediate family who personally prepares for and conducts the decedent’s final disposition.

The three steps involved in creating a Wisconsin death record include:

  1. Filling out personal information on the decedent
    The Funeral Director or the person filing the death record obtains the decedent's personal information required for the death record from the next of kin or the most qualified person or source available. The informant then enters their signature, address, and the date of signing and submits or mails the record, within 24 hours after being notified of the death, to the physician, coroner, or medical examiner charged with completing and signing the medical certification.

  2. Medical Certification
    Medical certification involves the attending physician, coroner, or medical examiner determining and certifying the cause of a decedent’s death. Any of the persons mentioned above may complete the medical certification, sign it, and mail it within 5 days after the declaration of death or provide the medical certification to the person responsible for filing the death record within 6 days after the pronouncement of death.

    However, if the attending physician is absent or gives a written approval, the medical certification may be completed and signed by any of the following who has access to the medical history of the decedent:

    • The other physician that assisted the attending physician
    • The chief medical officer of the hospital or nursing home where the death occurred
    • The physician who conducted an autopsy on the decedent
  3. Filing at the registration district of the place of death

    After all the required information has been completed on the death certificate, the person filing the record will present the record at the registration district of the place of death within 2 days after receipt of the medical certification.

How to Find Death Records Online in Wisconsin?

Death records cannot be looked up online. The Wisconsin Vital Records Office of the Department of Health Services only provides access to death records via mail and in-person orders.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.

How to Find Death Records for Free in Wisconsin?

Death records maintained by the Wisconsin Vital Records Office of the Department of Health Services are only available upon payment of the required fee. Note that the required fee is non-refundable even if no record is found. Also, there are no provisions for application fee waivers in Wisconsin.

Where Can I Get Death Records in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Vital Records Office of the Department of Health Services maintains and issues death records for deaths that occured within the state from October 1, 1907 to the present. Death records are only available to requesters with direct and tangible interests in the records. A person interested in obtaining a death record from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office must complete the Wisconsin Death Certificate Application with accurate information. Legible photocopies of the requester’s valid identification and necessary documents are also required. Note that expired documents will not be accepted. Required identification may include one of the following:

  • State-issued driver's license or ID card
  • Tribal or military ID card
  • U.S. government-issued photo ID
  • U.S. or foreign passport

Or two of the following:

  • Bank/earnings statement
  • Vehicle registration/title
  • Health insurance card
  • Current, dated, signed lease
  • Utility bill or traffic ticket

A requester can submit the completed Wisconsin Death Certificate Application, required fees, valid ID, and other necessary documentation to the Wisconsin Vital Records Office by mail in a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to:

Wisconsin Vital Records Office
P.O. Box 309
Madison, WI 53701

Note that the Wisconsin Office of Vitals Records is currently closed to the public for all in-person services. For inquiries and regular updates, interested persons may call the office at (608) 266-1373 or send an email to dhsvitalrecords@dhs.wisconsin.gov.

Normally, for in-person requests, completed applications, required fees, and valid IDs are submitted at:

Wisconsin Vital Records Office
1 West Wilson Street, Room 160
Madison, WI 53703

Same day service is available for in-person requests and is processed between 8:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In-person requests are submitted between 3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. (closing hour) are processed the next business day.

Death records are also available through:

  • The Wisconsin County Register of Deeds’ Office in the county where the death occured - Typically, most Register of Deeds’ Offices in the state accept requests through in-person and mail requests. However, it is necessary to contact the Register of Deeds’ Office in the county where the death occurred to confirm the acceptable methods of request and other required details.

  • The Milwaukee Health Department - The department has Wisconsin death records dated from September 2013 to the present and for all City of Milwaukee deaths dated from 1869 to the present. Requests can be submitted by mail, credit card, or in-person. Authorized persons may submit written, signed, and dated letters, stating the following:

    • Relationship to deceased
    • Date of death
    • Full name of the person named on the record
    • City and county of death

    To request from the Milwaukee Health Department, submit by mail or in-person, a completed Wisconsin Death Certificate Application or a written, signed, and dated letter, alongside a current unexpired ID, and the required fee to:

    City of Milwaukee Health Department - Vital Statistics
    Zeidler Municipal Building
    841 North Broadway, Room 115
    Milwaukee, WI 53202
    Fax: (414) 286-2036
    Phone: (414) 286-3503

    Note that the Milwaukee Health Department encourages requesters to send requests via mail instead of in-person requests. However, for persons that can not send mail requests, in-person services will be available strictly by appointment between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from Monday through Friday. To book an appointment, call (414) 286-3503.

    For credit card requests, complete either the Expedited Death Certificate FAX/Email Application Form or the Death Certificate FAX/Email Application Form, depending on which is applicable. Print the completed form, sign it and fax your request to (414) 286-2036 alongside a legible copy of your current valid photo ID. The valid ID number and expiration date must be visible.

    A completed form may also be emailed with a scanned copy of your current valid photo ID to vitalrecords@milwaukee.gov. Include your name and date in the body of the email. The name in your email constitutes a legal signature.

  • The West Allis City Health Department - The department maintains death certificates from September 1, 2013 to the present. Due to the COIVID-19 pandemic, in-person services are currently unavailable; hence all requests should be sent via mail. Send a completed Death Certificate Application, valid ID, and the required fee to:

    West Allis City Health Department
    7120 W. National Avenue
    West Allis, WI 53214

Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Wisconsin?

The accessibility of death certificates in Wisconsin depends on whether the death certificates requested are certified or uncertified copies. A certified copy is printed on a security paper and has a raised seal and the State Registrar’s signature. Only authorized persons may obtain certified copies of death certificates. The following persons are considered authorized persons, as they have direct and tangible interests in the records in accordance with the law:

  • Immediate family member, current spouse, child, brother, sister, grandparent, current domestic partner (Declaration of Domestic Partnership registered in the WI Vital Records System under the law), and a parent who is named on the death certificate and whose parental rights have not been revoked
  • Grandchildren, step-parents, step-brother, and step-sister
  • Legal custodian or guardian of the deceased with legal proof, such as a court order of custody or guardianship
  • A person with a written and notarized authorization clearly specifying the relationship of the authorizing party to the decedent on the record. If a death certificate is required for a legal purpose, the requester must provide documentation proving this.
  • A person with proof that the death certificate is required to protect a personal or property right

The persons listed above shall complete the Wisconsin Death Certificate Application accurately, as guided by the application, ticking the right boxes to indicate their relationships with the decedents.

On the other hand, uncertified copies of death certificates contain the same information as certified copies but are printed on plain white papers and include stamps indicating they are not acceptable for legal or identification purposes. Any person can request uncertified copies. However, uncertified copies shall not include extended facts of deaths (cause of death, manner of death, and final disposition) except if 50 years have passed since the occurrence of the death or the requester has a direct and tangible interest in the record.

Note that it is mandatory that all requesters present required documentation and unexpired valid IDs showing the number and expiration date of ID.

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Wisconsin?

A death certificate costs $20 for the first copy and $3 for each additional copy in Wisconsin. The payment method is as follows:

  • In-person requests - Cash, credit cards (MasterCard®, Visa®, and Discover®), check, or money order in U.S. funds, payable to State of Wisconsin Vital Records. A money order or check must be payable via a U.S. financial institution. Personal checks must be preprinted with the account holder’s account number, name, routing number, and check number.
  • Mail requests - Checks, or money order in U.S. funds, payable to State of Wisconsin Vital Records. A money order or check must be payable via a U.S. financial institution. Personal checks must be preprinted with the account holder’s account number, name, routing number, and check number.

Any five-year period in the single-year indexes of October 1, 1907, through 1958 requires a $20 search fee. For example, the cost for the office to search for a death certificate from 1940 through 1944 would be $20, while a search for a death certificate from 1940 through 1949 (10 years of single indexes) would be $40.

Either one of these multiyear indexes is considered one search period and requires a $20 search fee:

  • Earliest filed records through September 1907
  • 1959 to the present

Note that if you are requesting a death certificate for a person with a common last name, such as Williams, Peterson, or Johnson, you are required to include as much additional information as possible to assist in the search, such as the place or date of death.

Other fees may apply for death certificates requested at the Milwaukee Health Department. These include:

  • Standard overnight mailing fee - $15.00 per order. UPS services are used.
  • Saturday delivery fee is $12.50. This is an additional fee. If you fax your application on a Friday, and the certificate is needed by the next day, you must check the Saturday delivery option.
  • Expedited Service (In addition to certificate fees) - $20.00 (fee set by State)

Note that additional shipping costs may apply for areas outside the continental United States. Regular mail delivery does not attract extra costs. All fees are nonrefundable.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Wisconsin?

Death certificates are delivered in approximately ten business days after receipt of applications. Note that processing time does not include mailing time to and from our office. In-person requests are processed within one hour. However, in-person requests submitted later than 3 p.m. will be available for pickup the next business day.

Death certificates are available at the Local Vital Records Offices at least 3 weeks from the date of the death.

How Long to Keep Records After Death

There are no laws determining how long a death record should be kept for after death in Wisconsin. However, it is necessary to retain a death record indefinitely because it is considered a legal official proof of death. In addition, the IRS statute of limitations for a tax return audit is three years, which means that the IRS may randomly audit the deceased's tax returns for the immediate three years after death, and the deceased's death record will be required during the audit. It is generally recommended to keep all financial records for at least seven years after the death before trashing them. The court maintains wills for 100 years after filing.

How to Expunge Your Death Records in Wisconsin?

Expungement is a court-ordered procedure that authorizes the complete deletion of a record that is considered a sensitive record or a record permitted to be deleted after the person named on the record has qualified for an expungement. Wisconsin laws and statutes do not permit the expungement of death records.

How to Seal Your Death Records in Wisconsin?

There are no laws authorizing the sealing of death records in Wisconsin.

How to Unseal Your Death Records in Wisconsin?

There are no laws authorizing the unsealing of death records in Wisconsin.