Burial & Cremation Laws in Nebraska

Here are some answers to common questions about post-death matters in Nebraska.

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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 Nebraska.

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 Nebraska?
Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
Learn more.

How do I get a Nebraska death certificate?

Nebraska law states that the “funeral director and embalmer in charge of the funeral” must initiate the completion of the death certificate. The  certificate must be filed with the health department within five business days of the date of death. (Nebraska Revised Statutes § 71-605.)

You may need 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, contact the local health department or go to the website of the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services. From the DHHS website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information for ordering death certificates online.

In Nebraska, when you order a copy of a death certificate, you must include a copy of valid, government-issued identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or military ID. Nebraska death certificates costs $11 per copy.

Who can order a death certificate?

In Nebraska, you can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate if you can show that you need the record for a “proper purpose.” Such purposes include:

  • establishing the fact or death or identity in a probate or estate action
  • transferring title to a motor vehicle or other property
  • determining a legal relationship with another person or a property right such as an inheritance, insurance, or dependency benefit
  • genealogical use, if the death occurred at least 50 years ago or if the family consents to use of the record, or
  • approved medical research, historical research, government use, or media use.

For more information, see the Nebraska Administrative Code, Title 174, Chapter 3.

Does Nebraska require embalming?

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. The procedure is rarely necessary; refrigeration is simpler and serves the same purpose.

Nebraska regulations require a body to be embalmed if:

  • the death was due to a communicable disease listed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), unless encased in a metal or metal lined and hermetically sealed container
  • final disposition will not occur within 24 hours, unless the body is refrigerated (refrigeration is allowed for up to 72 hours), or
  • the body will be shipped by common carrier, such as an airplane or train.

(Nebraska Administrative Code, Title 172, Chapter 68 § 008.)

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. Under federal law, a funeral home cannot refuse to use a caskets tthat you buy from another source, such as an online retailer. You may even build the casket, if you prefer.

Where can bodies be buried in Nebraska?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Nebraska. All Nebraska burials, even home burials, must be supervised by a licensed funeral director, so you must find a local funeral director who is willing to help with your burial plans. You should also check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning and registration laws you must follow.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Nebraska, 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. 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. 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 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.

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 Nebraska, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Nebraska.

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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