Many people do not understand the process of registering a death or getting a copy of a South African death certificate. Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is difficult enough. The last thing you need is to deal with legal processes to proceed with family affairs.
Copies of death certificates (see example image and click to enlarge) are required for finalising processes such as the settlement of an estate, application for insurance benefits, pension claim settlements, and closure for family members. On this page, we take a look at the basic process of registering a death in SA. We also look at the difference between abridged and unabridged death certificates are. Plus, we highlight why obtaining a vault copy of the death registration document is not as easy as it might seem.
South African death certificates: process for registering a death
The South African Births and Deaths Registration Act 51 of 1992 outlines requirements and procedures to be followed upon the death of a South African citizen. It requires reporting a person’s death to either The Department of Home Affairs, South African Police Service, or South African Missions, Embassies, or Consulates where the death occurred outside of the republic.
A Notification of Death or Still Birth Form (BI-1663) must be completed when reporting a death. The person reporting the death, usually a medical practitioner, and a Home Affairs officer or a member of the South African Police Service all fill in the Notification of Death. When you register a death, the DHA issues a Death Report (BI-1680). You only get a Burial Order (BI-14) once the Death Report is available.
After receiving the Notification of Death Form (BI-1663) and Death Report Form (BI-1680), The Department of Home Affairs will issue an abridged Death Certificate. If you need an Unabridged Death Certificate (BI-132), additional fees and processing times apply.
NB: Vault copies are the original death reports of South African citizens. These are meant to be stored in the DHA archives. However, the chances of successfully finding such documents, given the immense problems with the filing system, are very slim (~20%-30%). It can take anywhere between two months and a year to trace original death reports. In some cases, they are simply impossible to find and Home Affairs feeds back the information that the vault copy death report is “LOST OR MISSING”.
What happens when South Africans die abroad?
If a South African citizen died abroad, the death must be reported to the nearest SA embassy or mission. The country in which the death occurred must then issue a death certificate. After that, a copy of the foreign certificate goes to a South African embassy or mission to report the death.
Abridged vs Unabridged Death Certificate
An abridged death certificate is a computer printout containing personal details of the individual that died along with the date of death. The DHA issues abridged death certificates by default. Thankfully, most countries want this document, which we can obtain for you on your behalf, even while you are outside of South Africa.
An unabridged death certificate (vault copy) contains details of the deceased, date of death, and includes the cause of death as well. These documents contain much more information than the abridged version of a death certificate. It may be that you need this detailed form of death certificate for emigration purposes and certain visas, such as ancestral visas.
How long does it take to get a copy of a South African death certificate?
It can take anywhere between two and six weeks to obtain a copy of a death certificate. Of course, this depends on how easy it is to find the records in the archives.
❗ Obtaining a vault copy of a death registration document (death report form) is a much more complicated process. There is only a 20%-30% success rate for retrieving vault copies of death reports.
This is why it is imperative to keep death certificates and all related death report documentation securely stored. Obtaining copies of the original documents can occasionally be close to impossible.
How do I apply for a copy of a South African death certificate?
If you need to apply for a South African death certificate or obtain a copy of an abridged or unabridged death certificate, you will need to follow the steps mentioned earlier. For new certificates, these steps include completing the Notification of Death and obtaining a death report form.
Should you require an unabridged version of the abridged death certificate you already have, you need to complete the BI-132 Application for Copy of a Death Certificate (DHA-132) form.
We can obtain the certificate on your behalf, remotely
If you have supporting documents, we advise you to submit them to speed up the process. This includes ID documents and any paperwork relating to the deceased and cause of death.
Apostil.co.za specialises in South African document assistance. We can help you obtain a death certificate or copy thereof in the shortest time possible. Our team applies for the certificate on your behalf and has the process expedited.