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 Maryland.
In Maryland, a death must be registered with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Vital Statistics Office, within 72 hours. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-212.) 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, go to the website of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. From the DHMH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find a link to order a death certificate online.
You must provide a copy of your government issued photo ID or other acceptable identification at the time you order the certificate. The first certified copy of a Maryland death certificate costs $10; additional copies cost $12 each.
In Maryland, the following people or agencies may order a certified copy of a death certificate:
For more information, contact the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Vital Statistics Administration.
The physician who was in charge of the deceased person's care for the illness or condition that resulted in death completes the medical certification within 24 hours after receiving the death certificate unless the medical examiner inquires into the death. If the attending physician is unavailable or gives permission, the physician performing the autopsy completes the medical certification.
If the medical examiner takes charge of the body, the medical examiner completes the death certificate. The case must be referred to the medical examiner if the cause of death is unknown or was caused by:
If the medical examiner can't determine the cause of death within 24 hours of taking charge of the body, the medical examiner marks that an investigation is pending for the cause of death. The medical examiner must update the cause of death information once he or she determines it. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-212.)
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 Maryland, there are no laws or regulations 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. Maryland law does not require a casket but says that a simple container may be necessary. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 5-505.) However, you should check with the cemetery; it may have rules requiring a certain type of container.
Cremation. Maryland law states that a crematory can require a casket to be used before, during, or after cremation or ban a casket for the cremation process. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 5-505.) 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.
Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It is considered a greener alternative to cremation because it uses less energy than cremation and does not release matter into the atmosphere.
Maryland legalized alkaline hydrolysis in 2010, when the state explicitly defined cremation to include processes other than heat and flame:
“Cremation” means the process of reducing human remains to bone fragments through intense heat and evaporation, including any mechanical or thermal process.
While there is evidence that some Maryland funeral service providers are researching the possibility of offering alkaline hydrolysis, no Maryland facility has yet made the process available for human remains. (See Maryland Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors, p. 2.)
To find an alkaline hydrolysis facility, you may need to look to one of the few states where the process is both legal and available to the public, such as Florida, Illinois, Maine, or Minnesota.
Beginning October 1, 2015, Maryland requires that bodies be buried in an established cemetery or in a family burial plot or other area allowed by a local ordinance. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 5-514.) Before establishing a family cemetery, check with the county health department and the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws you must follow.
In Maryland, there are no state laws restricting where you may keep or scatter ashes, though the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has prepared a publication encouraging individuals to scatter ashes responsibly.
Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. 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. 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, the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight suggests that you 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. 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, including the contact information for the EPA representative in Maryland, 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 Maryland, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Maryland.
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.