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.
Filing the death certificate. 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. In Arizona, a death must be registered with the local or state registrar within seven days. (Ariz. Stat. § 36-325(A).) 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.
Getting copies of the death certificate. 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 (often the funeral home) 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 10 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. 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 (see below).
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 the Arizona Department of Health Services page on Who Can Obtain a Death Certificate.
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, embalming isn't required except when burial or cremation won't occur within 24 hours or when the body isn't refrigerated immediately after death. (Section R4-12-303.) In addition, if the body is being shipped, embalming is usually required.
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The average cost of a casket is more than $2,000, and the price can run into the $10,000-$20,000 range for more elaborate designs and expensive materials. Whether due to the cost or for other reasons, 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. Although funeral homes may sometimes be very pushy about getting you to buy caskets from them, federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. (Learn more about your consumer rights under the FTC Funeral Rule.) You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.
Alkaline hydrolysis (more informally called "water cremation," "flameless cremation," "aquamation," and many other terms) is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It's considered a greener alternative to cremation because it uses less energy than cremation and does not release matter into the atmosphere.
In 2023, Arizona recognized water cremation as an acceptable form of disposition when it adopted laws setting out licensing requirements for alkaline hydrolysis facilities and operators. (Ariz. Stat. §§ 32-1341 to 32-1347.)
While water cremation or aquamation is recognized by law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service in Arizona, which might mean traveling a distance to access it. The equipment is expensive and public demand is still small, though it's growing. With time, facilities offering water cremation are likely to become more commonplace.
If you're interested in this option for yourself, you may want to explore pre-planning your final arrangements. Water cremation tends to cost a little more than traditional cremation. (For example, see this 2023 NPR interview on water cremation in which one funeral home prices its water cremation service at $1,000 more than traditional cremation.)
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 addition, 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. (Ariz. Stat. § 36-326(I).)
In Arizona, there are no state laws governing where you may keep or scatter ashes. But 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.
Generally, 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, developed areas, campgrounds, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites of some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the National Park Service website.
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 regional EPA representative for Arizona, see Burial 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 Arizona Home Funeral Laws. To learn about the federal rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see Nolo's section on Getting Your Affairs in Order.
Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo), helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.