Finding the public records of a deceased person is relatively straightforward now, as many public records are available online. Accessing those records, however, may be more difficult, and at times with fees attached. If you are the relative of the deceased person, or the executor of his or her estate, your job will be easier. Some documents -- such as birth, marriage and death records -- are all public and accessible for a certain fee; others, such as medical records, may be more difficult to obtain.
Use the Social Security Number of the deceased person -- known as the decedent -- in your searches, as you are looking for one specific person. If you don't know it, check the Social Security Administration's death Index. By knowing the decedent's name and the date and county where the death took place, you'll be able to find the SSN.
Search the many types of public records available: birth, marriage, death, divorce, deeds and mortgages, professional licenses and voter records. Searchsystems.net and BRB Publications both offer links to thousands of free public-record databases. Either one will allow you to locate many public records. Each will also offer to do the searching for you for a fee, depending on which records you wish to access.
Pay the service. Receiving search results for criminal records, bankruptcies, judgments and liens comes with a charge.
Obtain access to asset records through searches for real property, aircraft, boats, cars and other registered property.
Check your state's laws on how to proceed with medical records. Access to medical records may be available to you if you are the next of kin to the decedent or the executor of the estate. If you are not next of kin or executor, there are still options. See if your doctor can obtain your relative's records if they are genetically and medically relevant to your treatment. He or she is entitled to do so under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules.
Search political affiliations and campaign contributions, corporate connections, employment records, voter records, professional licenses and charitable organisations.
Use the Freedom of Information Act for more difficult-to-find records. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press maintains a free FOIA letter generator to assist you.
If you're willing to do the work yourself, you'll be able to obtain many records without paying a fee. If you don't have the time, you can pay for the searches or hire a private investigator.
Tips and warnings
- If you're willing to do the work yourself, you'll be able to obtain many records without paying a fee. If you don't have the time, you can pay for the searches or hire a private investigator.