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.
In Hawaii, a death certificate must be filed with the department of health within three days. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 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 might 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're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you may need multiple official copies to carry out your job. For example, you'll 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 (such as 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 later, visit the website of the Hawaii Department of Health. From there, you can download a mail-in order form or find information on requesting death certificates in person. (An online ordering system is currently in the works.)
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.
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:
For the full list of eligible people, see Hawaii Revised Statutes § 338-18.
The funeral home director or other person in charge of the disposition of the body must obtain certain information to complete and file the death certificate. Personal details usually come from next of kin, while the cause of death portion usually comes from the physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse who last attended the deceased person. If the death occurred without medical attendance, the case is referred to the local health officer. If the circumstances suggest that the death wasn't due to natural causes, then the coroner will investigate and certify the cause of death instead. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 338-9.)
Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Most U.S. states give the option of embalming or refrigerating a body if burial or cremation doesn't happen within a certain time of death.
However, in Hawaii, if a body is not cremated or buried within 30 hours after death, it must be embalmed. There are a few exceptions if:
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. Additionally, if the body is being transported by a common carrier, it must be placed in a casket. (Hawaii Admin. 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.
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," "aqua cremation," 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 2022, Hawaii explicitly recognized aquamation as an acceptable form of disposition when it added a definition of "water cremation" to its laws:
"Water cremation" means alkaline hydrolysis, which is the reduction of human remains to bone fragments and essential elements using heat, pressure, water, and base chemical agents.
While water cremation or aquamation is acknowledged by law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service in Hawaii. 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.)
In Hawaii, bodies must be buried on land approved as a cemetery by the Director of Health. (Hawaii Admin. Rule § 11-22-5.) Additionally, a person must obtain a burial-transit permit before burying a body. (This permit is also necessary if the body will be transported by common carrier—such as airplane or train.)
While Hawaii does allow "family burial plots" (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 441-5.5), before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the local registrar for any rules specific to your area.
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. 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. 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 Hawaii, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea.
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.
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 Hawaii, see Hawaii 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.