Burial and Cremation Laws in Minnesota

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

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 Minnesota.

How do I get a death certificate in Minnesota?

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 or crematory will prepare and file the death certificate. The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask the person or organization that files the certificate (such as the funeral home) to order them for you at the time of the death.

If you're the executor of the estate (in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs), you should ask for at least 10 certified copies. 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.

If you need to order copies of a death certificate after some t, visit the website of time has passed, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's page on death certificates. From there, you'll find instructions for ordering death certificates by mail or fax from any Minnesota county vital records office.

You must provide a copy of a valid ID at the time you order the death certificate. Each certified copy of a Minnesota death certificate costs $13.

Who can order a death certificate in Minnesota?

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

  • the deceased person's spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling
  • the legal custodian, guardian, conservator, or health care agent of the deceased person
  • the deceased person's personal representative or the trustee of a trust who needs the record to administer the estate or trust
  • the deceased person's successor
  • 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 who represented the deceased person, or who represents one of the people listed above
  • someone with a court order releasing the death record to that person, and
  • a representative authorized by any person listed above.

For the complete list, see Minnesota Statutes § 144.225 and the Minnesota Death Certificate Application.

In Minnesota, who completes the death certificate?

The funeral director completes the personal information on the death certificate, with input from the deceased person's next of kin. Medical professionals complete the medical portions of the death certificate, including the cause of death. Only the following medical professionals can provide the cause of death information:

  • a physician who was present at the time of death
  • a physician or physician associate who provided medical treatment for the deceased person before death
  • a physician who has direct knowledge of the cause of death and access to the deceased person's medical record
  • the coroner, or
  • a medical examiner.

Minnesota Statutes § 4601.1800.

Is embalming required in Minnesota?

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Though it's still a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.

Minnesota requires that a body be embalmed, refrigerated, or packed in dry ice in the following circumstances:

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

Additionally, 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 the coroner.

(Minnesota Statutes § 149A.91.)

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

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.

In Minnesota, 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 Minnesota?

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.

Minnesota was one of the earliest states to recognize alkaline hydrolysis. In 2003, Minnesota created licensing regulations and other requirements for alkaline hydrolysis. Minnesota law defines alkaline hydrolysis as:

the reduction of a dead human body to essential elements through a water-based dissolution process using alkaline chemicals, heat, agitation, and pressure to accelerate natural decomposition; the processing of the hydrolyzed remains after removal from the alkaline hydrolysis vessel; placement of the processed remains in a hydrolyzed remains container; and release of the hydrolyzed remains to an appropriate party.

(Minnesota Statutes § 149A.02.) The law also states that alkaline hydrolysis is considered a form of final disposition.

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 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. (Minnesota Statutes §§ 307.01 and following.) Before proceeding with burial on private land, check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws that may apply.

For more information, see the Minnesota Department of Health's publication on the regulations and requirements of final disposition of a dead human body.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation in Minnesota?

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. 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 contact information for the EPA representative in Minnesota, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea.

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.

Other Resources

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 Minnesota, see Minnesota 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.

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