Burial and Cremation Laws in Michigan

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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 Michigan.

1. How do I get a death certificate?
2. Who can order a death certificate?
3. Is embalming required?
4. Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?
5. Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?
6. Where can bodies be buried in Louisiana?
7. Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
8. Learn more.

How do I get a death certificate?

In Michigan, a funeral director is required to file a death certificate with the local registrar within 72 hours of the death. (Michigan Compiled Laws § 333.2843.)

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 Michigan Department of Community Health. From the MDCH website, you can find instructions for ordering death certificates by mail or online.

The first certified copy of a Michigan death certificate costs $26; additional copies cost $12 each.

Who can order a death certificate?

Unlike most states, death certificates are not restricted records in Michigan. There are no rules about who may order certified copies, and no ID is required.

Is embalming required?

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 Michigan, if a body is not buried or cremated within 48 hours, embalming may be required for transportation purposes. Embalming is also required if the death was due to certain rare, communicable diseases. (See Michigan Administrative Code §§ 325.1141 and 325.1142.) For a persuasive argument that Michigan’s embalming regulations are often interpreted in an overly broad way by funeral directors who want to sell embalming services, see the publication Michigan-Specific Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Information Pertaining to After Death Care and Disposition from the Michigan Funeral Consumers Information Society.

Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?

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.

Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?

No. 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.

Where can bodies be buried in Michigan?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is sometimes possible in Michigan. Michigan state law allows for the creation of private burial grounds of less than an acre outside city or village limits. (Michigan Compiled Laws § 128.111.) The property must be surveyed and recorded with the county clerk; it will then be exempt from taxation. (See Michigan Compiled Laws § 128.112.)

Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, you will need zoning approval and a permit from the local health department.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Michigan, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. 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, 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 harm 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.

Learn more.

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 Michigan, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Michigan.

To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.

by: , J.D.

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