Burial and Cremation Laws in Maine

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

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 Maine.

How do I get a death certificate in Maine?

In Maine, a death must be registered with the local clerk within three days. A body may not be removed from the state until the death certificate is filed. (Maine Health & Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1.) 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 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, visit the website of the Maine Division of Public Health. From the MDPH website, you can find instructions for ordering death certificates online. To request a death certificate by mail, you must include the following:

  • the deceased person's name and date of death
  • the name of the city or town where the death occurred
  • your relationship to the deceased person
  • your phone number, and
  • the necessary fee.

You must provide a copy of a valid, government issued photo ID at the time you order the death certificate. The first certified copy of a Maine death certificate costs $15; additional copies are $6 each.

Who can order a death certificate in Maine?

In Maine, anyone can request a death certificate that is at least 25 years old. If the death certificate is less than 25 years old, the following people or agencies may order a certified copy:

  • the deceased person's spouse or registered domestic partner
  • the deceased person's parent or descendants
  • the deceased person's legal guardian, or
  • an authorized representative of the deceased person.

If the person requesting the document is an adult child or grandchild, he or she must submit a document showing family relationship, such as a birth certificate. Genealogists who have a researcher card issued by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention can obtain a non-certified copy of a death record.

For more information about this and other issues related to ordering Maine death certificates, see the Data, Research and Vital Statistics FAQs on the MDPH website.

In Maine, who completes the death certificate?

In Maine, the attending physician in charge of the deceased person before death completes the medical certification and returns it to the funeral director within 24 hours. If the physician cannot adequately determine the cause of death until laboratory results are in or an autopsy is performed, the physician must report the death to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. (Maine Health & Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 5.)

Is embalming required in Maine?

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 Maine, if a body will be shipped by common carrier -- such as an airplane or train -- it must either be embalmed or placed in a container designed "to prevent the escape of fluids or offensive odors." (Maine Health & Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1.)

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

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.

In Maine, do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?

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.

Is water cremation (aquamation) available in Maine?

Alkaline hydrolysis (more informally called "water cremation," "flameless cremation," "aquamation," 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.

Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Maine in 2009, when the Maine Attorney General approved a new definition of cremation in the Maine Rules for Establishment and Operation of Crematoria (144 CMR 244, Section 1.) That definition now includes "chemical dissolution." It currently reads:

Cremation: The technical process, using direct flame and heat, or other process, that reduces human remains to bone fragments. The reduction takes place through heat and evaporation, or through other processes, including, but not limited to, chemical dissolution. Cremation includes the processing and usually includes the pulverization of the bone fragments.

Still, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering water cremation in Maine. 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.)

Learn more about alkaline hydrolysis.

Where can bodies be buried in Maine?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is possible in Maine. You may record a family burying ground of up to one quarter of an acre in the registry of deeds of the county where the body is buried. You must enclose the family burying ground with a fence or otherwise make it clear where the graveyard is situated. If you ever sell the property, you keep the right to access the graveyard. (13 M.R.S.A. § 1142).

You must obtain a burial-transit permit before you bury a body at sea, use it for medical science, remove it from the state, or cremate the body. (Maine Health & Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1.)

Where can we store or scatter ashes in Maine?

Maine law states that ashes can be "deposited in a niche of a columbarium or a crypt of a mausoleum, buried, or disposed of in any manner not contrary to law." (13 M.R.S.A. § 1032). If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. 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 municipal and borough regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as a municipal 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, or 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 Alaska, 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.

More Resources

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 California, see Making Funeral Arrangements in California.

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.

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