Burial and Cremation Laws in Minnesota

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 Minnesota.

1. How do I get a death certificate?
2. Who can order a death certificate?
3. Is embalming required?
4. Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?
5. Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?
6. Where can bodies be buried in Louisiana?
7. Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
8. Learn more.

How do I get a death certificate?

In Minnesota, a death must be registered with the state registrar of vital statistics within five days after the death and before the body is buried or cremated. (Minnesota Statutes § 144.221.) 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 Minnesota Department of Health. From the MDH website, you can find instructions for ordering death certificates by mail, fax, or email.

You must provide a copy of a valid ID at the time you order the death certificate. The first certified copy of a Minnesota death certificate costs $13; additional copies are $6 each.

Who can order a death certificate?

In Minnesota, the following people or agencies may order a certified copy of a death certificate:

  • a member of the deceased person’s immediate family
  • the person responsible for filing the death record
  • the deceased person’s personal representative or other person responsible for the administration of the estate
  • a trustee of a trust who needs the record to administer the trust document
  • anyone who can prove that the record is needed to determine or protect a personal property right
  • an adoption agency representative who needs the record to complete a confidential post-adoption search
  • a licensed attorney
  • an individual with a court order authorizing release of the record
  • a government agency who needs the record to perform its authorized duties, or
  • a representative authorized by any person listed above.

For more information, see Minnesota Statutes § 144.225 and the Minnesota Death Certificate Application.

Is embalming required?

When a body is embalmed, blood is removed and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Refrigeration serves the same purpose.

Minnesota requires embalming or refrigeration in more circumstances than most states. A body must be embalmed or packed in dry ice if:

  • it will be shipped by public transportation
  • burial or cremation will not occur within 72 hours after death, or
  • the body will be viewed publicly (by people other than family).

A body may not be kept in refrigeration for more than six days -- or packed in dry ice for more than four days -- from the time the body is released from the place of death or from a medical examiner.

(Minnesota Statutes § 149A.91.)

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.

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 Minnesota?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is possible in Minnesota. If you want to establish a private cemetery, you must have the land surveyed and the plat recorded with the deed. The cemetery land will be exempt from taxation. Before proceeding with burial on private land, check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws that may apply.

For more information on this and other issues related to final disposition of a body in Minnesota, see the Choices manual, published by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Minnesota, 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. 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 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, 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 Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.

Scattering ashes by air. There are no state laws on the matter, but federal aviation law prohibits dropping objects that might injure people or damage 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.

Learn more.

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 Minnesota, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Minnesota.

To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.

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