Burial and Cremation Laws in Missouri

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

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

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 Missouri.

How do I get a death certificate in Missouri?

In Missouri, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within five days after death and before final disposition of the body. 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. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)

You might want a copy of a death certificate for your records or, if you're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you may require multiple, official copies to carry out your job. For example, 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.

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're the executor of the estate, ask for at least 10 certified copies.

If you need to order copies of a death certificate later, contact the local health department or go to the website of the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. From the DHSS website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information for ordering death certificates in person, over the phone, or online.

In Missouri, you must show identification when you order a copy of a death certificate in person. If you order records by mail, you must sign your application in front of a notary public. The first copy of a Missouri death certificate costs $14; additional copies ordered at the same time cost $11 each.

Who can order a death certificate in Missouri?

In Missouri, you can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate if you can show that you have a "direct and tangible interest" in the record. People with a direct and tangible interest usually include immediate family members, legal representatives, and others who need the record to determine a personal or property interest. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.255 (2023).)

If you aren't sure whether you are eligible to order a death certificate, contact the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records.

In Missouri, who completes the death certificate?

The funeral director (or other person in charge of final disposition of the body) 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, and obtains the medical certification from the medical professional who has information about the person's death. (This professional is usually the physician, physician assistant, assistant physician, or advanced practice registered nurse who was in charge of the deceased person's care for the illness or condition that caused the death.) This medical certification is due back to the funeral director within 72 hours of the death. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)

If the death occurred more than 36 hours from the time the deceased person was last treated by a physician, the case is referred to the county medical examiner, coroner, or local registrar for investigation and to determine the case of death. If this designated person determines the death was due to natural causes, he or she refers the case to the deceased person's last attending physician. If the death was not due to natural causes, the medical examiner or coroner determines the cause of death and completes the medical certification within 72 hours of taking charge of the case. If the cause of death can't be determined within 72 hours, the medical professional notifies the funeral director of this and the body can't be disposed of until the medical professional authorizes it. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)

Is embalming required in Missouri?

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.

In Missouri, if you are using a funeral director, the body must be embalmed, refrigerated, or placed in a hermetically sealed casket if disposition will not occur within 24 hours. (Mo. Code Reg. tit. 20, § 2120-2.070 (2023).).

Refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. There are resources available to help you learn to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation. The website of the National Home Funeral Alliance is a good place to start.

In Missouri, 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 between $2,000 and $5,000, 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 Missouri, 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 Missouri?

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.

Lawmakers revised Missouri's code of regulations in 2020 to explicitly allow alkaline hydrolysis by name. Missouri's definition of cremation is now:

A final disposition of dead human remains; the mechanical process which reduces remains to bone fragments through heat, evaporation, and/or an alkaline hydrolysis chemical process.

(Mo. Code Reg. tit. 20, § 2120-1.040 (2023).).

Even before 2020, Missouri's definition of cremation had been broad enough to include alkaline hydrolysis, even if it didn't explicitly mention the process. As a result, a handful of Missouri funeral homes and crematories have been offering the option for years.

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 Missouri?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is possible in Missouri by establishing "family burying grounds." The burial ground must not exceed one acre, and it must be deeded in trust to the county commission, to be used as a family burial ground for the family and the descendants of the person who owned the land. You must file the deed with the county clerk within 60 days. (Mo. Rev. Stat. 214.090 (2023).)

Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the county or town registrar for any local zoning laws you must follow.

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

In Missouri, 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 may 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. 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 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.

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 Missouri, see Missouri 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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