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 Arizona.
In Arizona, a death must be registered with the local or state registrar within seven days. (Arizona Statutes § 36-325(A).) 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. If someone dies in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice or is under treatment for an acute or chronic medical condition and dies from that condition, a health care provider designated by the treating doctor or facility must complete the medical certification of death on the death certificate within 72 hours of death.
You may need to obtain copies of a death certificate for a number of reasons. You may simply want to keep 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 health department in the county where the death occurred or visit the Arizona Department of Health Services online. You can download a mail-in order form from the ADHS website.
When you apply for the death certificate, you must provide a copy of a signed photo ID (front and back) or a notarized copy of your signature, along with proof of eligibility showing why you have the right to the record (see below). A certified copy of an Arizona death certificate costs $20; non-certified copies cost $5 each.
In Arizona, you must be at least 18 years old to order a certified copy of a death certificate. The following individuals and organizations are permitted to apply for a certified copy of a death certificate:
A genealogical researcher, under limited conditions, can receive a non-certified copy of a death certificate.
For details, see Who Can Obtain a Death Certificate on the Arizona Department of Health Services website.
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 Arizona, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated only if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours. (See, for example, Section R4-12-303 of the Arizona Administrative Code.) If the body is being shipped, embalming is usually required.
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. (For more information on burial containers, see the Consumer Guide to Arizona Funerals, published by the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.)
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. Federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from other sources, 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 Arizona that prohibit burial on private property. Local governments may have rules governing burials, however. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check county and city zoning rules.
In Arizona, before a body is buried, the location of the cemetery must be filed with the county recorder's office. The local or state registrar is not supposed to issue a burial permit unless the cemetery is on file with the county recorder or located on federal or tribal land. (Arizona Statutes § 36-326(I).)
In Arizona, there are no state laws governing where you may keep or scatter ashes. The county medical examiner must approve of cremation, and an authorizing individual (like the executor or next-of-kin) must sign a form authorizing cremation within 15 days of the death. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.
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 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, or 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 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.
For more information about funeral laws in Arizona, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Arizona.
To learn about the federal Funeral Rule, which protects consumers in all states, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.
Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo) helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.