Burial & Cremation Laws in Arkansas

Everything you need to know about burial and cremation laws in Arkansas.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

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 Arkansas.

How do I get a death certificate in Arkansas?
Who can order a death certificate in Arkansas?
Is embalming required in Arkansas?
In Arkansas, is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?
In Arkansas, do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?
Where can bodies be buried in Arkansas?
Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation in Arkansas?

How do I get a death certificate in Arkansas?

Filing the death certificate. In Arkansas, a death must be registered with the local or state vital records office within 10 days. (Arkansas Code § 20-18-601.) 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.

The funeral director sends the death certificate to the physician who was caring for the deceased person for the illness or condition that caused the death. The physician completes the medical certification portion of the death certificate and returns it within three days. If the cause of death cannot be determined within three days after death, final disposition of the body cannot be made until the state medical examiner, attending physician, or county coroner authorizes it.

Getting copies of the death certificate. 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 (often a 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 Arkansas Department of Health online. From the ADH website, you can download a mail-in order form or order death certificates online.

Who can order a death certificate in Arkansas?

In Arkansas, the following individuals or organizations are permitted to apply for a certified copy of a death certificate:

  • the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of the deceased person (or an authorized representative of the family member)
  • someone who establishes a need for documentation of the cause of death in order to establish a legal right or claim
  • an organization that provides benefits to the deceased person's survivors, and
  • local, state, or federal agencies.

In addition, death certificates can be issued when needed for research activities that are approved by the state registrar, or upon receipt of a court order. For more details, read Arkansas Code § 20-18-305.

    Is embalming required in Arkansas?

    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 Arkansas, any body not buried within 48 hours of death must be either embalmed or refrigerated. Similarly, a body being cremated need not be embalmed or refrigerated for a 48-hour period after death unless a health problem dictates otherwise. (Arkansas Health Department Vital Records Regulations § 8.1.)

    Additionally, a body must be embalmed if it is to be transported by common carrier, such as an airplane or train. (Arkansas Health Department Vital Records Regulations § 8.0(c).)

    In Arkansas, is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?

    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.

    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. You can find Arkansas's regulations for cremation containers in Rule I, Section 16 of the Arkansas Embalmers & Funeral Directors Rules.

    In Arkansas, 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 other sources, such as an online retailer. You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.

    Where can bodies be buried in Arkansas?

    In Arkansas, a body must be buried in an established cemetery. (Arkansas Code § 20-17-902.) The sexton may require that you obtain a burial permit first.

    If you want to bury a body on private land, you may be permitted to establish a family graveyard. Contact the local health department and check town and county zoning laws before you proceed. You must register a family graveyard with the county clerk before holding a burial. (See Arkansas Code § 20-17-901, requiring all cemeteries to be registered with the county.)

    Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation in Arkansas?

    In Arkansas, there are few limits on 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. Generally, 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. In Arkansas, if you want to scatter ashes on someone else's private land, you must get written permission from the landowner. You can find this requirement in Rule IV, Section 4(E)(3) of the Arkansas Embalmers & Funeral Directors Rules.

    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, developed areas, campgrounds, 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, including the contact information for the regional EPA representative for Arkansas, 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.

    Important note. If you don't scatter the ashes within 60 days after cremation or provide instructions on how the ashes should be scattered, the person with the ashes can dispose of them in any way allowed by law. (See Rule IV, Section 4(E)(2) of the Arkansas Embalmers & Funeral Directors Rules.

    Other Resources

    To read the rules governing funeral services providers in Arkansas, visit the website of the Arkansas Board of Embalmers & Funeral Directors. To learn about the federal rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.

    For more information about funeral laws in Arkansas, see Arkansas Home Funeral Laws.

    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.

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