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 Indiana.
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, contact the health department in the county where the death occurred or go to the website of the Indiana Department of Health. From the DOH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find a link to order death certificates online.
You must provide a photocopy of acceptable identification -- such as the front and back of a government issued photo ID -- at the time you order the certificate. The first certified copy of an Indiana death certificate costs $8; additional copies cost $4 each.
In Indiana, you can obtain a death certificate if you can show that you have a direct interest in the death record and that the certificate is necessary to determine your personal or property rights, or for compliance with state or federal law.
People who have a direct interest include members of the deceased person's immediate family, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, adult nieces, adult nephews, funeral directors, and genealogical researchers (if the record is over 75 years old).
The attending physician who provided treatment to the patient for the last illness or condition completes the death certificate. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-3.) If a death occurred without medical attendance or the attending physician can't physically or mentally sign the certificate of death, the local health officer inquires into the cause of death from anyone having knowledge of the cause of death. The local health officer can have a qualified pathologist perform an autopsy when this is necessary to complete the inquiry. The local health officer then certifies the cause of death based on the autopsy findings. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-6.)
If the circumstances suggest the death wasn't caused by natural causes or the emergency room physician last in attendance can't determine the cause of death, the case is referred to the coroner for investigation. The coroner reports the death to the local health officer within three days of holding an inquest. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-7.)
In Indiana, the “person in charge of interment” -- that is, a funeral director -- must file a death certificate with the local health officer in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-3.) The law doesn't say how quickly the certificate must be filed, but Indiana has an electronic death registry system to help registrations move quickly through the system.
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 Indiana, there are no laws requiring embalming.
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.
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. 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.
In Indiana, bodies must be buried in established cemeteries within a "reasonable time after death". (Indiana Code § 23-14-54-1.) If you want to bury a body on private land and you live in a rural area, you may be able to establish a family cemetery. Check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws and other ordinances you must follow. If you are permitted to create a family graveyard, you should draw a map of the land showing where the graveyard is located and file it with the property deed, so the location will be clear to others in the future. You or the funeral director must get a burial permit before disposing of the body from the local health officer in the county where the death occurred. (Indiana Code §§ 16-37-3-10 and 16-37-3-11.) A transport permit is necessary if the body is transported by common carrier. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-12.)
Indiana law states that cremated remains may be kept by the person who is legally entitled to them or disposed of by:
A form documenting the disposition of ashes must be filed with the county recorder within ten days of placement or scattering. (Indiana Code 23-14-31-44.) However, no one follows up on this requirement to be sure recording takes place or that the ashes remain where the form says they are.
Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others. Here are some additional tips on common options for scattering ashes.
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, you should get permission from the landowner, as described in the law above.
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, see Burial of Human Remains 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.
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 Indiana, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Indiana.
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.