Death certificates may also be issued pursuant to a court order or an executive order in the case of individuals who have been declared dead in absentia.Missing persons and victims of mass disasters (such as the sinking of the RMS Lusitania) may be issued death certificates in one of these manners.In some jurisdictions, a police officer or a paramedic may be allowed to sign a death certificate under specific circumstances.This is usually when the cause of death seems obvious and no foul play is suspected, such as in extreme old age. This varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; in some areas police officers may sign death certificates for victims of SIDS, but in others all deaths of individuals under 18 must be certified by a physician.
For example, in the State of New York, death certificates are only obtainable by close relatives, including the spouse, parent, child or sibling of the deceased, and other persons who have a documented lawful right or claim, documented medical need, or a New York State Court Order.
Their older records tend to follow the layout used in England and Wales.
Stillbirths (beyond 24 weeks gestation) have been registered since 1927 in a register that is closed from public access.
One purpose of the certificate is to review the cause of death to determine if foul-play occurred as it can rule out an accidental death or a murder going by the findings and ruling of the medical examiner.
It may also be required in order to arrange a burial or cremation to provide prima facie evidence of the fact of death, which can be used to prove a person's will or to claim on a person's life insurance.