How to Correct Errors on a Death Certificate in New Zealand

16 July 2020

Death certificates have a high sentimental value for families and are part of the public record in New Zealand. Despite their significance, the information recorded in these documents is not always correct. Over the years, there have been incidents where people find that information on death certificates has been wrongly recorded.

In 2001, the NZ Herald reported a case where a large portion of the information on a Timaru woman’s death certificate had been incorrectly recorded. The deceased family were (expectedly) disappointed and upset. This incident was not a one-off occurrence, in fact, according to the news report, in the financial year closing 2000, out of the 38,351 death certificates issued by Births, Deaths and Marriages (“BDM”), “the registry corrected 1641 errors highlighted by informants”.

Although this NZ Herald report was published about 20 years ago, information on death certificates is still being recorded wrongly. This could be caused by any of a number of factors - such as the wrong information given to the funeral director when the certificate was being prepared, or the person giving the information having an ulterior motive, or human error on the part of BDM.

If you discover that the information on a death certificate is wrong, here’s what you can do:

  1. Call BDM on 0800 22 5252; or
  2. Contact the funeral director and request that they assist with obtaining a correct death certificate.

Anyone who orders and receives a death certificate that they believe contains an error may lodge an enquiry with BDM. You can use their 0800 number above or send an email to [email protected]. No identification is required for the enquirer but the following information needs to be provided:

  • Full name on certificate;
  • Date and place of event;
  • What the error is;
  • A contact name, and a daytime contact telephone number;
  • A mailing address; and
  • The registration number at the bottom right of the certificate (if available).

If the error was made by BDM, a corrected certificate will be issued at no cost once you return the incorrect certificate. If the error was not made by BDM, whoever wants the correction will need to pay the sum of $33 every time a new certificate is requested. If the details on the certificate are identical to the details on the registration, you will be contacted for confirmation. The timeframe for an error enquiry is up to 15 working days.

The second option is to contact the funeral director. The funeral director will complete an error of fact form and send it to BDM by email. When that is done, BDM would make the necessary change and issue a new certificate based on the new information provided.

It’s important to note that the two options only apply where corrections are requested no later than between 6 to 8 months after the death certificate was issued. If the certificate is much older only the first option will apply and BDM may be reluctant to change any information without compelling evidence and reasons. Time is of the essence.

Rebekah Revell is part of our Family Disputes team at Norris Ward McKinnon.

Family Disputes Team