TN 14 (08-04)

GN 00304.005 Preferred Evidence of Death

A. Policy principle

For initial claims processing, preferred evidence of death must be obtained if it is available. Preferred evidence is:

  • Death certificate,

  • Form SSA-704 (Certification of Contents of Documents or Records), and

  • Form SSA-721 (Statement of Death By Funeral Director). See GN 02602.050A, Processing Reports of Death.

Other acceptable means of proof of death are:

  • MBR (GN 00304.001B.), or

  • Numident record that shows death data based on an EDR report (GN 00304.100).

    NOTE: Obituaries are not considered proof of death, but can be used as a lead to obtain other acceptable evidence of death.

B. Operating policy

1. Civilian Death in U.S. or Body Returned to U.S.

NOTE: When a body is returned to the U.S., you may be able to secure evidence of death from a U.S. source, e.g., a certified copy of the public record of death. When a person dies and the body is not returned to the U.S., see instructions in GN 00304.100B.2.

Obtain one of these proofs:

  1. A copy of, or a statement as to, the contents of the public record of death certified by the custodian or the FO employee;

  2. A statement of death on an SSA-795 executed by the attending physician, superintendent, physician or intern of the institution where death occurred or was confirmed;

    The statement should read, for example:

    “I am an authorized practitioner of medicine in the State of       and attended (Name of deceased) who died (Date).”

  3. An SSA-721 or other statement executed by the funeral director or authorized representative as indicated on the form;

    NOTE: An SSA-721 cannot be used to establish death by a funeral director filing on his/her spouse's record. Obituaries are not considered proof of death, but can be used as a lead to obtain other acceptable evidence of death.

    Funeral directors in states that register deaths via the electronic death registration system (EDR) are not encouraged to send the SSA-721 to the field offices because EDR records are verified proofs of death. EDR allows SSA to receive a verified first party fact of death report from the State within 24 hours of the State’s receipt in its repository and within five days of death. Funeral directors using EDR, however, are encouraged to continue to provide members of the public with the “fact sheet” portion of the SSA-721, which provides important information about who is eligible for benefits and how to apply for them. For instructions on using the Death Data Numident as proof of death see the instructions in GN 00304.100B.3.a.  

  4. A certified copy of the coroner's report of death or verdict of the coroner's jury of the State or community where death occurred.

2. Civilian Dies Outside U.S.

  1. a. If decedent was a U.S. citizen or U.S. national, obtain:

    • A U.S. Consul or other State Department agent report of death bearing his/her signature and the official seal, if readily available;

    NOTE: U.S. consular offices obtain information on deaths of all U.S. citizens which occur in their districts. To obtain copies of death records prepared overseas for civilians and merchant seamen, contact the appropriate foreign service post representative through the Office of International Operations using the instructions in GN 00307.200 and GN 00904.210.

    • A finding by the Bureau of Employee's Compensation;

    • An official report of death from a military department on civilian personnel;

    • A telegram or signed communication from the Coast Guard or from the owner, operator or master of the vessel on which the deceased served or was a passenger;

    • A certified copy of the ship's log on which the deceased served or was a passenger;

    • Form NCG-742 furnished to SSA central office by the U.S. Coast Guard and forwarded from the Office of Central Records Operation to the FO with this notation in the margin:

    “Date of Death established as       . Proof on file in OCRO.”

  2. If the decedent was not a U.S. citizen, see GN 00307.200.

3. Member of the U.S. Armed Forces Dies