Burial & Cremation Laws in Utah

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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 Utah.

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 Utah?
7. Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
8. Learn more.

How do I get a death certificate?

In Utah, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within five days of the death and before the body is buried, cremated, or shipped out of the area. (Utah Code § 26-2-13.) 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. If you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you'll need 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, such as life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable-on-death accounts, and veterans benefits.

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 Utah Department of Health. From the DOH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information about ordering death certificates in-person, online, or by phone.

You must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government issued photo ID. The first certified copy of a Utah death certificate costs $16; additional copies ordered at the same time cost $8 each.

Who can order a death certificate?

In Utah, unless the death occurred more than 50 years ago, a death certificate may be issued to anyone who can show a “direct, tangible, and legitimate interest” in the certificate. Those who have such an interest include:

  • the deceased person’s spouse, child, parent, legal guardian, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild
  • the designated legal representative of the deceased person or of one of the people named above
  • any person who can show the certificate is necessary to establish a personal or property right -- for example, by providing a copy of a life insurance policy naming the person as the beneficiary
  • government agencies conducting official business
  • individuals or agencies conducting statistical or medical research, if consent is obtained from the registrar, or
  • anyone with a court order.

For more details, see Utah Code § 26-2-22.

Is embalming required?

In Utah, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if it will not be buried or cremated within 24 hours of death. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-3.) Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration.

In addition, if a body will be shipped by common carrier -- for example, a plane or train -- it must be embalmed and placed in a sealed casket or metal container designed for the purpose of shipping a body. If embalming is not possible, the body must be placed in an approved, airtight container. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-2.)

Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?

A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death, costing from about $500 to $20,000 or more.

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. In fact, 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 the casket yourself.

Where can bodies be buried in Utah?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Utah. Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws you must follow. If you bury a body on private land, you should draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the property deed so the location will be clear to others in the future.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Utah, 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 them. 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 well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks, including Bryce Canyon in Utah, which allows scattering by permit only.

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. There are no state laws on the matter, but federal aviation laws 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 Utah, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Utah.

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

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