Burial & Cremation Laws in Kentucky

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

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

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 Kentucky.

How do I get a death certificate in Kentucky?

Filing the death certificate. In Kentucky, a death certificate must be filed with the vital statistics office before final disposition of the body. The funeral director or person acting as such has five days to present the certificate to the doctor or other medical professional in charge of the deceased person's care, to the physician who pronounced death, or to the health officer or coroner. Usually, the medical professional then has five working days to complete the certificate and return it to the funeral director. (Kentucky Statutes § 213.076.) The certificate is then ready for filing.

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're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you might 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 (usually the funeral home, mortuary, or crematory) 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 Kentucky Department for Public Health. From there, you'll find options for ordering death certificates online, by phone, in person, or by mail.

There are no restrictions on who may order a certified copy of a death certificate in Kentucky. Each certified copy of a Kentucky death certificate costs $6.

Is embalming required in Kentucky?

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 Kentucky, there are no laws or regulations requiring embalming.

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

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.

In Kentucky, 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 Kentucky?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Kentucky. Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws you must follow. If you bury a body on private land, you should draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the property deed so the location will be clear to others in the future.

Kentucky's regulations also dictate that the body must be buried at least two feet or three feet below ground, depending on whether there is a casket and its material. (901 Ky. Admin. Code 5:090.)

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

You must obtain a permit before cremating the body. (Kentucky Statutes § 213.081.) But once the ashes are in your possession, you are allowed to keep or transport them in any way you like, without a permit.

According to Kentucky law, cremated remains shall be disposed of by:

  • placing them in a grave, crypt, or niche
  • scattering them in a designated scattering area, or
  • scattering them in any manner on the private property of a consenting owner.

(Kentucky Statutes § 367.97524.) Generally, use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others. Here are some additional tips on 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, Kentucky law requires that you get permission from the landowner. (See above.)

Scattering ashes on public land. While a strict reading of Kentucky law rules out scattering on public property, the law was written with funeral services providers in mind and there are no enforcement provisions for private individuals who choose this option. 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. 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 Kentucky, 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.

Other Resources

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 Kentucky, see Kentucky 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.

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