Filing the death certificate. In Florida, a death must be registered with the local or state vital records office within five days and before the body is buried or cremated. (Florida Code § 382.008.) 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 deceased person's primary or attending physician or the medical examiner completes the medical certification portion (listing the cause of death) within 72 hours of receiving the death certificate from the funeral director. An extension beyond the 72 hours can be granted for special circumstances, such as an autopsy is pending, toxicology reports are necessary, further investigations into the deceased person's identity are necessary, or the primary physician is not available within the 72-hour window.
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 the funeral home) to order them for you at the time of the death. If you're 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, visit the website of the Florida Department of Health, where you'll find options for ordering death certificates online, using a downloadable mail-in form, or in person at the local office. The first certified copy of a Florida death certificate costs $5. Additional copies cost $4 each.
In Florida, anyone may order a certified copy of a death certificate that does not include the cause of death and has the first five digits of the deceased person's social security number redacted. However, unless the death occurred more than 50 years ago, only the following people may order a complete death certificate showing the cause of death and full SSN:
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 Florida, embalming is not required. But if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours, a body must be either embalmed or refrigerated. (Florida Statutes § 497.386)
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. An alternative container may be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
No. In fact, federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.
Alkaline hydrolysis (also known as water cremation) is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It is considered a greener alternative to cremation because it uses less energy than cremation and does not release matter into the atmosphere.
The state of Florida authorized alkaline hydrolysis by slowly expanding its definition of "cremation" to include methods other than incineration. The current legal definition of cremation in Florida is:
Any mechanical or thermal process whereby a dead human body is reduced to ashes and bone fragments. Cremation also includes any other mechanical or thermal process whereby human remains are pulverized, burned, recremated, or otherwise further reduced in size or quantity.
Alkaline hydrolysis had some of its first roots in Florida. It was one of the first states to legalize this practice. The Mayo Clinic and the University of Florida used this process for years to dispose of human cadavers. The University of Florida was the first establishment in the United States to install a system for this purpose. In 2011, the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersberg, Florida, became the first organization in the U.S. to offer alkaline hydrolysis—they called it "flameless cremation"—to funeral consumers.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but there are no state laws in Florida that prohibit burial on private property. According to the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery & Consumer Services, Florida allows families to establish cemeteries that are less than two acres large, so long as burial spaces or burial rights are not offered for sale. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should also check county and city zoning ordinances. Some might not permit home burials, while others might impose additional restrictions, such as permits or the presence of a licensed funeral director.
You might also want to consider the future sale of the property, as purchasers may be leery of buying property where human remains have been buried.
In Florida, there are no state laws that restrict where you may keep or scatter ashes. Cremation 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.
If a body is cremated and the ashes are not claimed within 120 days of cremation, the company in charge of the ashes can dispose of the ashes by any way permitted by law, including methods discussed below. (Florida Statutes § 497.607.)
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 keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, developed areas, campsites, 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 EPA representative in Florida, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea .
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.
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 Florida, see Florida 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.