There are many reasons to need to prove a person deceased, usually it involves probate, or the unavailability of a victim or witness, and sometimes in a civil case that a witness or party is deceased. We have also seen it when investigating identity theft and false identities. 20 years ago it was much easier to verify a death through public records, but identity theft and other personal privacy concerns changed that.
Proving a death depends on several factors - from where to how, and if they were transient, etc.
First check the Social Security Death Claims Index (common genealogy sites and some investigative databases). This does not have every death, just those in which burial and/or survivor SSA benefits were applied for. The information is updated quarterly for the most part. Some investigative databases have this as a stand alone search, or when you run the name or SSN the search is included.
If that is inconclusive, you can check the more common national obituary sites. These do not have every obituary, but collect them from the major regional newspapers and contributing funeral homes. Not everyone that dies has an obituary, and of course not every source is included. www.arrangeonline.com and www.legacy.com are two sources.
After that you need to know the area that the person likely died. I believe every state restricts information regarding death certificates to next-of-kin, so contacting the state or county vital stats office won't help. Check the following, and simply tell them you are confirming the death of a person. The more information you have the better - full name (and nicknames / spellings), DOB, SSN, etc. Check local newspapers, funeral homes, coroner or medical examiner offices, hospice care, etc. Also check the clerk and recorder or other county official records repository for deeds, etc. - someone may have recorded a claim, will, etc. Check the court probate records to see.
There is no central information source for all deaths at any state, federal or local level. It is a hit and miss, the more information you have the better.
Dean A. Beers, CLI, CCDI is a Certified Legal Investigator and Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, and expert in criminal defense homicide and civil equivocal death investigations. He is certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations and served as a forensic autopsy assistant. He has lectured extensively and authored multiple articles, peer-reviewed white papers, and provided expert testimony on Protocols of Private Investigation, and Forensic Investigation of Injury Pattern Analysis. He authored Professional Locate Investigations and recently completed Practical Methods for Legal Investigations: Concepts and Protocols in Civil and Criminal Cases, released by CRC Press in February 2011. With Karen he co-developed 'Death Investigation for Private Investigators' online continuing education for 14 states.
Mr. Beers is the past Board Chairman and Life Member of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, Region 6 CLI Representative of the National Association of Legal Investigators with a column ‘Forensic Focus’ in NALI's trade magazine ‘The Legal Investigator’, Secretary and past Region 5A Director of the National Council of Investigation and Security Services, Member and Forensic Investigations Advisor of the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council, Affiliate Consultant member of the National Association of Medical Examiners, and holds additional memberships in the World Association of Detectives, International Association for Identification, and Mensa USA, as well as the state associations of FALI, TALI and CALI.
He began his investigative career in 1987 and operates Associates in Forensic Investigations LLC, with his wife, Karen, also a CCDI and legal investigator certified in Medicolegal Death Investigations. They have two daughters, a granddaughter and identical twin grandsons.