Cremation Laws and How They affect Arranging a Cremation














 
 
 
 

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Understanding cremation laws and how they affect arranging a cremation

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As cremation is growing in popularity as a disposition choice, we are finding that more people are searching online to find out the laws for cremation in their state.  As a body is completely reduced to just ashes in the cremation process, there are quite strict laws governing the cremation of a body.  There are licensing and operational requirements for crematories, and state laws governing who can authorize a cremation and how long after a death a cremation can be performed.

Who can authorize a cremation?

The next-of-kin is normally considered the person responsible for authorizing a cremation.  In some states this is referred to as the “authorizing agent”.  For a cremation to go ahead an authorization form or declaration for disposition of cremated remains must be signed by the next-of-kin.

Cremation Permits

Once the death certificate and authorization form have been filed, the county in which the cremation is to take place issues a cremation permit.  The charge for the cremation permit is often added to the general price for a cremation, as is the fee for the death certificate.  The cost for a cremation permit varies depending on the issuing county, but is usually between $10-$40.

How do state and local laws on cremation vary?

Each state, and even each county, has its own variations on federal regulations governing the cremation process.  There is usually at least a 24-hour waiting period before the deceased can be cremated, but in some states the law on cremation states that 48-hours must lapse between the death and the cremation.  The coroner or public health department can override this if there is a public health concern and the body must be immediately disposed of.

Do cremation providers need to be licensed?

Yes, all cremation providers are regulated and have to be licensed.  There are also industry regulations and practices to ensure the ethical and safe handling of the deceased in crematories.  There are rules that stipulate about the handling of cremated remains that ensure you can be assured that the cremated remains you receive are exactly, and only, the remains of your loved one.

What is the process for a cremation?

As mentioned above there is strict code of standards for crematories to ensure that dispositions are ethically managed.  Only one body can be cremated at once, and all cremated remains must be cleared from the cremation chamber before another cremation can begin.  These standards do mean that you may have little input into any ‘customization’ of a cremation process.  Once your loved one is received into the care of the crematory he/she will be ID checked and tagged to ensure that checks can be made at all steps of the process.  If the deceased has any medical implants these are removed and the body is prepared for cremation.  The deceased is placed in a suitable rigid combustible container, which is then placed in the cremation chamber or retort.  The cremation is the process of adding intense heat to reduce the body to cremated remains or ashes.  The process reduces the human body to its base elements and the process can take anything between 1 – 4 hours, depending upon the cremation machine.  The cremated remains following the cremation are actually bone fragments, which are then mechanically ground to a powder.  Usually there is about 3 – 9 pounds of cremated remains.

Is a casket required for a cremation?

No, you do not require a casket or coffin for a cremation.  Most state laws stipulate that an “alternative container” is required.  This can be any rigid, combustible container and these days a rigid cardboard or plywood/laminate container is commonly used.  If you are having a service and require a casket, you can usually use a rental casket supplied by your cremation provider or funeral home.  Eliminating the need for a casket can significantly reduce your overall funeral costs.

Can I view the actual cremation process?

Some crematories will allow you to view the initiation of the cremation process.  Some crematories will actually allow you to initiate the process by pressing the button, as this is required by some faiths.  If this is important to you, you should check this before selecting a cremation provider.  Most crematories do open their doors to the public, however, many prefer not to witness any aspect of the process.

What laws govern what I can do with the cremated remains?

Again, laws governing what you can, and cannot, do with cremated remains can vary state-by-state. Although you should check specific state laws, the general guidelines are:

  • You cannot commingle cremated remains, unless with the specific request of the deceased. 
  • You can keep cremated remains at home
  • You can have them buried or stored in a niche or columbarium
  • You can have them added to an existing grave i.e. spouse or family already buried
  • You can scatter cremated remains in a designated place i.e. a memorial garden
  • You can scatter remains on private or public lands with the appropriate permission.
Visit our Funeral Guides by State in the Library Section to check specific ash scattering laws for your state.

Why should I choose cremation?

It is a personal choice whether cremation is the right disposition option.  Many consider it more environmentally and eco-friendly than traditional burial.  It eliminates the need for embalming chemicals, and the need for steel caskets and concrete burial vaults to be buried in the ground.  Cremation has been around for many, many centuries and in some religions is considered the only, and most spiritual, way to dispose of the dead.  The Catholic Church also now accepts cremation.  Many modernists prefer the idea that their DNA is, in effect, eliminated.  One significant reason why more Americans are choosing cremation is that it is much cheaper than a traditional burial.  The cremation rate in the U.S. is now at around 41% and is forecast to reach as high as 60% by 2025. 

 How much does a cremation cost?

A cremation can cost anything from $450 through to $4,000, this all depends on exactly how extravagant the funeral service is and whereabouts you are located.   In many of the states where the cremation rate is higher, prices are more competitively priced and a basic cremation can be purchased for around $700 - $900.  In Florida and Nevada the prices for a direct cremation can be as low as $450.

What is a direct cremation?

A direct cremation is where the deceased is collected, transferred directly to the crematory (or funeral home) and an immediate cremation is conducted.  This requires the minimal services of a funeral director, so the professional fees are lower.  Be sure to check exactly what is included in a direct cremation package.  Some firms quote a price but do not include the actual crematory fee or the fee for the cremation container.  Most reputable funeral homes and cremation providers that offer a direct cremation package will include:

  • The basic services of a funeral director to collect the deceased and file any necessary paperwork i.e. authorization form, death certificate & cremation permit
  • Temporary storage if required
  • An alternative cremation container
  • The crematory fee
  • A temporary receptacle for the return of the cremated remains
Most funeral homes will offer you incremental services & products, such as choosing a more elaborate cremation urn.

What is the difference between a cremation with service and a direct cremation?

A cremation with service is just like an ordinary funeral service.  The deceased can be present in repose during the service, and then a cremation is performed afterwards instead of a burial, and the ashes are later returned to the family. Whereas a direct cremation is conducted without any service.

Can a body be transported over state lines to be cremated?

Yes, the deceased can be transported across state lines for a cremation.  If the deceased is to be transported over any distance, and a period of over 24-hours may elapse, embalming may be required.  Airline funeral shipping companies have specific regulations to meet, and this can involve the use of a designated air-freight mortuary shipping container.  Visit our section on Funeral Shipping for further information.

What alternative options do I have to memorialize cremated remains?

There are so many options today for what you can do once you have your loved ones cremated remains.  There are a whole array of cremation urns, keepsake urns, and all sorts of weird and wonderful cremation receptacles.  You have the option to scatter the ashes, all of the ashes, or scatter some and retain some.  You can have a diamond made from cremated remains, or other unique glass-blown jewelry.  In fact, there are so many options and we have tried to comprehensively list the categories on our Ash Scattering page.

Where can I find more information about cremation?

If you want to read further about cremation, you will find that US Funerals Online has a Library Section on Cremation with numerous articles related to the topic.

You can also visit the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), 499 Northgate Parkway, Wheeling, IL 60090 http://www.cremationassociation.org/

You can also read more in detail about the history, culture, religious variations & memorialization aspect of cremation at Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cremation

Expert Author: Sara J. Marsden

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 5 years.

Related Articles:

Resources:

DFS Memorials – Network of low cost cremation providers
State Guides – state specific regulations on cremation

Last Revised:  04/09/2013

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