law offices of merwyn j. miller
191 calle Magdalena, suite 270 • encinitas, San Diego County, ca  92024 • 760-436-8832

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Title Insurance Company Involvement
Death Certificate from County Clerk
Death Certificate–Check Your Files

Death Certificate-Prior Sale
Death Certificate–Prior Purchase
Death Certificate–In Person and Online

Dear Mr. Miller:

Introduction: My grandmother passed several months ago. We are now ready to sell her house. Title is held in the trust that she had with her husband.

We have a buyer and are ready to move forward but the escrow company is telling us we need a certified copy of the death certificate for my grandpa. He died before she ever purchased this house so she is the only one named as trustee on the title. Why would anyone need his death certificate and how do we get one—fast? (back to top)

Frantic Grandkid

Dear Frantic:


Title Insurance Company Involvement: Tying up the loose ends when someone dies, including selling a house, can be complex and fraught with surprises. The escrow company (the one handling getting all of the paper and money together and then transferring the deed to one party and the money to the other, along with a myriad of other details) is not really the one who wants the death certificate. That entity is the title insurance company.

Virtually every real estate sale in California involves a title insurance policy being issued by the title insurance company (title company) to the buyer (and the mortgage lender if there is one). Basically, the title policy insures the buyer against loss if the title company screwed up searching the records to make sure there were no liens or other title defects. A title company’s goal (and the basis for its liability) is to make sure there are no defects (or any defects are reported and pre-approved by the buyer) so the title company wants to leave no stone unturned in its research.

You say that your grandma held title in her trust and it was a joint trust with your grandpa. Even though he died before the house was purchased, he probably is listed as a co-trustee in the trust document. So the title company just wants to touch all of the bases in its research. (back to top)

Death Certificate from County Clerk: If you know in what county he died, you can obtain a certified copy of the death certificate from that county clerk (every state has a department that handles this, sometimes the court, sometimes the hall of records, in California it is the county clerk). The fee is approximately $20 although it may be higher or lower in other states. If you need it quickly then you will need to go to the clerk’s office (locations are typically available on line). In California, there is restricted access to death certificates so you must be an authorized party to get a full copy (non-authorized parties obtain an abbreviated copy–my bet is that the title company wants a full copy). Fortunately grandchildren are authorized parties. (back to top)

Death Certificate–Check Your Files: If you don’t have the time to go to the county clerk there may be alternatives available to you. First, you may already have the necessary documents in your grandma’s files. But if not, you will want to speak directly with the title officer–the one handling things for the title company (this is a different person than the escrow officer who is the person in charge for the escrow company). Ask the escrow officer for the name and phone number of the title officer as well as the title order number. (back to top)

Death Certificate-Prior Sale: If your grandma owned a house with your grandpa and sold it after his death, there will probably be a document entitled Affidavit Death of Trustee that would have been recorded right before or after the deed that named the buyer as the new title holder. That document is almost always recorded with a certified copy of the death certificate. If that house was located in the same county as the one you are selling now, then the title officer should be able to find the document quickly and that should take care of the problem. If it is located in a different county, then it may take a few days longer. (back to top)

Death Certificate–Prior Purchase: Another option is to have the title officer check the records as to when your grandma purchased the present house. The title company in that transaction probably went through the same process. The death certificate might be in the files of the title insurance company that issued a title insurance policy in that transaction. The name of the company and the title order number is usually listed on the deed. If it is a different title company than the one you are working with now, the title officer can usually obtain cooperation from that other title company.

Death Certificate–In Person and Online: If none of those options work, then you will either have to go to the county clerk’s office or do it online. The latter takes longer but is certainly easier. (back to top)

Sept. 4, 2016