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're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you may require 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 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, contact your local health department (in the county where the death occurred), or visit the Indiana Department of Health, where you can order death certificates online or download a mail-in order form.
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. Online orders incur extra processing fees.
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 "person in charge of interment"—usually the director of a funeral home, mortuary, or crematory—or the physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse who last attended the deceased completes the death certificate. (Indiana Code § 16-37-3-3.) If a death occurred without medical attendance or the attending physician is physically or mentally unable to 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.)
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.
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.)
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 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.
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 from the local health officer in the county where the death occurred before you can bury the body or transport it out of the county. (Indiana Code §§ 16-37-3-10 and 16-37-3-11.) A transport permit is necessary if the body will be transported by common carrier such as airplane or train. (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 10 days after disposition. (Indiana Code 23-14-31-44.) However, no one follows up on this requirement.
Generally, 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, 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, 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 Indiana, see Indiana 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.