Burial & Cremation Laws in Hawaii

Everything you need to know about burial, cremation, and other post death matters in Hawaii.

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 Hawaii.

How do I get a death certificate in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, a death certificate must be filed with the department of health within three days. (Hawaii Revised Statutes § 338-9.) 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. 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 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 Hawaii Department of Health. From the DOH website, you can download a mail-in order form. (It is not currently possible to order a death certificate online.)

You must provide a copy of your government-issued photo ID when ordering a death certificate. The first certified copy of a Hawaii death certificate costs $10. Additional copies cost $4 each.

Who can order a death certificate in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, a certified copy of a death certificate will be issued to you only if you have a “direct and tangible” interest in the record. People who have such an interest include:

  • the deceased person’s spouse or other relative
  • the deceased person’s legal guardian
  • a person or agency acting on behalf of the deceased person
  • the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate
  • an adoptive parent who has filed a petition for adoption and needs to determine the death of a biological parent of the adopted child
  • a person with a court order giving them the right to a copy of the death certificate
  • a person who needs to confirm the death of a nonrelated co-owner of joint tenancy property, or
  • a person who needs a death certificate to determine payments under a credit insurance policy.

For more details, see Hawaii Revised Statutes § 338-18.

In Hawaii, who completes the death certificate?

The funeral home or other person or organization must give the death certificate to the physician or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who last treated the deceased person before death or to the coroner's physician. This person certifies the cause of death. If the death occurred without a physician or APRN's attendance or this individual doesn't sign the death certificate, the local agent refers the case to the local health officer for investigation and certification of the cause of death before a burial permit can be issued or the body can be disposed of. The coroner is required to investigate and certify the cause of death if the death was not due to natural causes. (Hawaii Revised Statutes § 338-9.)

Is embalming required in Hawaii?

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 Hawaii, a body must usually be embalmed, cremated or buried within 30 hours after death. If the body is in the custody of the coroner, medical examiner, county, or county physician, the body must be embalmed, cremated, buried within 30 hours after release, or placed in refrigerated storage in a state approved hospital. These regulations can be found in Hawaii Department of Health Administrative Rule 11-24-4.

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

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. Additionally, if the body is being transported by a common carrier, it must be placed in a casket. (Hawaii Department of Health Administrative Rule 11-22-6.)

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.

In Hawaii, 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 your own casket, if you prefer.

Where can bodies be buried in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, bodies must be buried on land approved as a cemetery by the county council. (Hawaii Department of Health Administrative Rule 11-22-5.) Additionally, a person must obtain a burial=transit permit before burying a body. This permit is also necessary if a common carrier transports the body. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the local registrar.

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

In Hawaii, 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 ashes. 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 keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, 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 Hawaii, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources states that as long as the scattering ceremony will not involve a large crowd and a number of vessels, you don’t need a permit. You should disperse the ashes beyond the reef line and, if you wish to scatter flowers along with the ashes, use loose flowers rather than leis because the strings of leis endanger marine animals.

If you are planning a large scattering ceremony, you should contact the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation at least 14 days in advance to obtain an ocean event permit. The permit is free.

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.

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 Hawaii, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Hawaii.

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.

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