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Grieving Hoosier families caught in the middle of death certificate system delays

Families struggle to get death certificates
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Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 18:28:58-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Christopher Rutan’s father passed away in late December. He's one of many Hoosiers who is struggling to get his hands on a death certificate.

"I cannot get anything done until the death certificate is in my hand. It's a nightmare,” Rutan said. “In order to make all the files complete and close them and get insurance money and get things transferred I have to have that legal death certificate.”

His dad's, one of more than 3,000 death certificates caught in the backlog of a new system implemented by the Indiana State Health Department at the beginning of the year. ISDH is currently working to address the issue.

Funeral Director Nichelle Dalton receives calls every day about the delay in death certificates.

"Families depend on those to proceed with their business dealings after the loss of a loved one for insurance and other business matters,” Dalton said.

Dalton co-owns Neal & Summers Funeral and Cremation Center in Martinsville. She is also the president of the Indiana Funeral Association.

“I have a responsibility and a desire to serve my families from beginning to end and death certificates are vital,” Dalton said.

December was the busiest month on record for her funeral home. They provided services for 38 families, more than double their normal number.

Now she is waiting for 17 death certificates that are caught up in the new system. Dalton says depending on the circumstances families usually receive a death certificate three to four days after a person has died.

The issue is starting to snowball. Without a death certificate, families cannot collect on insurance policies. Dalton says this is often how funeral services are paid for, by way of reimbursement.

"Small funeral homes in rural areas are really starting to panic because they've been a month without getting payment,” Dalton said.

She says she is still awaiting payment for several funeral services from families due to the delay, but it isn’t a problem for her bottom line just yet. However, if the system issues are not resolved soon, that could change.

"It could be a problem if it went on too much longer,” Dalton said.

Right now, her main focus is helping families get their death certificates in hand so they can tie up loose ends on one of the most challenges times in their lives.