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 Louisiana.
In Louisiana, a funeral director is required to file a death certificate with the local registrar within five days of the death. (See the website of the Louisiana Center of State Registrar & Vital Records.)
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 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 (typically 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 Louisiana Center of State Registrar & Vital Records. From there, you'll find options to order death certificates online, by phone, in person, or by mail.
You must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government-issued photo ID. Each certified copy of a Louisiana death certificate costs $7.
In Louisiana, a death certificate may be issued only to certain individuals. These include:
The person may have to submit additional documentation to prove their right to the death certificate, such as a signed copy of the insurance policy in which the person is named beneficiary.
For the full list and details, see the Louisiana Department of Health's page on Who May Order a Death Certificate.
The last physician who attended the deceased person must complete the medical certification portion of the death certificate. The physician must return the death certificate to the funeral director within 24 hours of receiving it.
If the death occurred without medical attendance or the doctor refuses or is unable to sign the certificate, the local registrar refers the case to the coroner. If circumstances suggest that the death was not due to natural causes, the local registrar refers the case to the coroner or medical examiner. The coroner or medical examiner must determine the cause of death and complete the medical certification within 48 hours of taking charge of the case.
If for some reason it takes longer than 48 hours to determine the cause of death, the coroner or physician gives the funeral director the reason for the delay. The body can't be buried or cremated until the coroner or physician authorizes it. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 40:49.)
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 Louisiana, a body must be either embalmed or refrigerated if burial or cremation will not occur within 30 hours of death. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 37:848.)
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. 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 the past, the Lousiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors attempted to argue that Lousiana state law states that only licensed funeral directors may sell caskets. But this interpretation of Louisiana state law was rejected by the courts as unconstitutional. (St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, 712 F.3d 215 (5th Cir. 2013).)
In Louisiana, bodies must be buried in established cemeteries. 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, then contact the Louisiana Cemetery Board. 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 its location will be clear to others in the future. The local registrar must issue a permit before a body can be buried or cremated. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 40:52.)
In Louisiana, 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 Louisiana, 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 Louisiana, see Louisiana 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.