Follow the handy link to the California Department of Public Health
Here's an excerpt from the form:
1. As of July 1, 2003, ONLY individuals who are authorized by Health and Safety Code Section 103526 can
obtain a Certified Copy of a Death Record. (Page 1 identifies the individuals who are authorized to make the
request.) All others may receive a Certified Informational Copy which will be marked, “Informational, Not a
Valid Document to Establish Identity.”
2. Complete a separate application for each death record requested.
3. Complete the Applicant Information section on Page 1 and provide your signature where indicated. In the
Decedent Information section, provide all the information you have available to identify the death record. If
the information you furnish is incomplete or inaccurate, we may not be able to locate the record.
4. SWORN STATEMENT:
• The authorized individual requesting the certified copy must sign the attached Sworn Statement, declaring
under penalty of perjury that they are eligible to receive the certified copy of the death record, and identify
their relationship to the registrant (person listed on the certificate) — the relationship must be one of those
identified on Page 1).
• If the application is being submitted by mail, the Sworn Statement must be notarized by a Notary Public.
(To find a Notary Public, see your local yellow pages or call your banking institution.) Law enforcement
and local and state governmental agencies are exempt from the notary requirement.
• You do not have to provide a Sworn Statement if you are requesting a Certified Informational Copy of the
5. Submit $12 for each copy requested. If no death record is found, the $12 fee will be retained for searching the
record (as required by law) and a “Certificate of No Public Record” will be issued to the applicant. Indicate the
number of copies you want and include the correct fee(s) in the form of a personal check or postal or bank
money order (International Money Order for out-of-country requests) made payable to the Office of Vital
Records. Mail this application with the fee(s) to the Office of Vital Records at the address below.
6. Returning Completed Certificates: Completed certificates are returned using the U.S. Postal Service.
You don't need an attorney (at least in NC) to obtain a death certificate. In California you can contact the California Department of Health to obtain a death certificate. You will need certain information in order to request it. You may even be able to contact the funeral home where the service was held to help you. But, since it was 4 years ago, it may take just as long for them to obtain it as it would you. I would call the Department of Health first to make certain you follow the proper procedures.
If an estate was opened in California, you may want to contact a California attorney in the county of death to find out if those records are public records. If so, you may be able to get a copy of the death certificate as a starting point.
The information is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. There is no attorney client relationship between you and the attorney. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Just to add a little twist on the good answers of Dave and Sabrina, IF for some reason you cannot find the death certificate, there may be some procedures in California for a judicial declaration of death. I know here in North Carolina about a decade ago I had a case where one business partner went missing under mysterious circumstances for many years and the other business partner hired me to 1) try to find him, and 2) failing that, get the state of NC to declare him dead. There is a specific statutory procedure for that, and I can only presume that California has one as well. Again, I mention this only if there is a road block to search/getting the death certificate. There may be another route, and in that case, then yes you would need most probably to get a California attorney. Good luck.