Burial & Cremation Laws in Delaware
Each state has laws affecting what happens to a body after death. For example, most states have unique rules about embalming, burial or cremation, scattering ashes, and how to get a death certificate. Here are some answers to common questions about post-death matters in Delaware.
How do I get a death certificate?
Who can order a death certificate?
Is embalming required?
Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?
Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?
Where can bodies be buried in Delaware?
Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
In Delaware, a death must be registered with the local or state vital records office within three days and before the body is buried or cremated. (16 Delaware Code § 3123.) Typically, the funeral home, mortuary, cremation organization, or other person in charge of the deceased person’s remains will prepare and file the death certificate.
You may need to obtain copies of a death certificate for a number of reasons. You might simply want a copy for your personal records or, if you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you may require multiple, official copies to carry out your job. You will need to submit a certified copy of the death certificate each time you claim property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person, including life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable on death accounts, veterans benefits, and many others.
The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask the person or organization that files the certificate to order them for you at the time of the death. If you are the executor of the estate, you should ask for at least ten certified copies.
If you need to order copies of a death certificate after the time of death has passed, visit the website of the Delaware Division of Public Health. From the DPH website, you can download a mail-in order form or order death certificates online.
You must provide a copy of a valid photo ID at the time you order the death certificate. A certified copy of a Delaware death certificate costs $25.
In Delaware, the following people or agencies may order a certified copy of a death certificate:
- the deceased person’s spouse or civil union partner
- the deceased person’s parent or child
- the deceased person’s legal guardian
- an authorized representative of the deceased person or of one of the people named above, or
- any other person who can prove that the certificate is needed to determine or protect their personal property rights or for genealogical purposes.
Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Though it is still a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.
In Delaware, if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours, a body must be embalmed, placed in a hermetically sealed casket, or refrigerated. (16 Delaware Health and Social Services Administrative Code, Part 4204 § 3.0)
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The cost of a casket can range from a simple $500 box to $20,000 or more for an elaborate design. Some people prefer to forgo a casket altogether.
Burial. No law requires a casket for burial. However, you should check with the cemetery; it may have rules requiring a certain type of container.
Cremation. No law requires a casket for cremation. On the contrary, federal law requires a funeral home or crematory to inform you that you may use an alternative container, and to make such containers available to you. An alternative container may be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
No. While Delaware law seems to require a casket seller to possess a funeral director’s license (see 24 Delaware Code §§ 3101 and 3106), federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but there are no state laws in Delaware that prohibit burial on private property. Local governments may have rules governing private burials. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check county and city zoning ordinances.
Delaware state law says that cremated remains may be “disposed of in such a way as is desired by the person receiving them.” (16 Delaware Code § 3161.) Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.
Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden. Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information.
Scattering ashes on private land. You are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s private land, it’s wise to get permission from the landowner.
Scattering ashes on public land. You may wish to check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. However, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgment be their guide.
Scattering ashes on federal land. Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. As with local or state land, however, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the website of the National Park Service.
Scattering ashes at sea. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.
The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.
For more information, including the contact information for the EPA representative in Delaware, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.
Scattering ashes by air. While there are no state laws on the matter, federal aviation laws do prohibit dropping any objects that might cause harm to people or property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material; all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.
To learn about the federal Funeral Rule, which protects consumers in all states, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information about funeral laws in Delaware, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Delaware.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.