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 Michigan.
In Michigan, a funeral director is required to file a death certificate with the local registrar within 72 hours of the death. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.2843.) 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. For example, 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 (for example, the funeral home) 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 some time has passed, visit the Michigan Department of Community Health. From there, you'll find instructions for ordering death certificates online, by phone, in person, or using a downloadable mail-in form.
The first certified copy of a Michigan death certificate costs $34; additional copies cost $16 each. Extra fees are imposed for online processing and rush requests.
Unlike in most states, death certificates are not restricted records in Michigan. There are no rules about who may order certified copies, and no ID is required.
The funeral director completes the death certificate with input from the next of kin and medical professionals. The funeral director collects personal information about the deceased person from the next of kin. The funeral director also obtains the medical certification (cause of death) from one of the following individuals:
The attending physician or other official must provide the medical certification within 48 hours of death, and the funeral director must file the death certificate with the local registrar within 72 hours. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.2843.)
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 Michigan, embalming is not required except in limited circumstances. For example, if a body is not buried or cremated within 48 hours, embalming may be required for transportation purposes. Embalming is also required if the death was due to certain rare, communicable diseases. (See Mich. Admin. Health Code R 325.1 and R 325.2.)
However, despite that it's not required by law, many funeral homes still require embalming as part of their own policies. (See Michigan-Specific FAQs Regarding Information Pertaining to After Death Care and Disposition.)
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. 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.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is sometimes possible in Michigan. Michigan state law allows for the creation of private burial grounds of less than an acre outside city or village limits. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 128.111.) The property must be surveyed and recorded with the county clerk; it will then be exempt from taxation. (See Mich. Comp. Laws § 128.112.)
Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, you will need zoning approval and a permit from the local health department.
In Michigan, 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, 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 harm 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 Michigan, see Michigan 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.