Burial and Cremation Laws in Missouri

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

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 and before final disposition of the body. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145.) 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 might want a copy of a death certificate for your 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, ask for at least ten certified copies.

If you need to order copies of a death certificate after the time of death has passed, 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 $13; additional copies ordered at the same time cost $10 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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.255.) 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.

If you aren’t sure whether you are eligible to order a death certificate, contact the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records before submitting your application. The phone number is 573-751-6400.

In Missouri, who completes the death certificate?

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 and also obtains the medical certification from the medical professional who has information about the person's death.

The physician in charge of the deceased person's care for the illness or condition that caused the death must complete the medical certification within 72 hours of the death. If that person is not available, the physician's assistant, the chief medical officer of the hospital where the person died, or the physician who performed the autopsy can complete the medical certification so long as this person had access to the deceased person's medical history. 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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145.)

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 is still a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose. Missouri regulations require a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours. (See Missouri Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors Rules, 20 CSR 2120-2.070(21).)

In addition, Missouri law requires embalming if:

  • the death is due to an infectious disease and burial or cremation will not occur within 24 hours
  • the body will be shipped by common carrier -- such as an airplane or train -- and will not reach its destination within 24 hours, unless the body is placed in a sealed casket, or
  • the body will be shipped by common carrier and death was due to certain contagious diseases, unless the body is wrapped in a disinfectant-saturated sheet and placed in a sealed casket.

(See Missouri Revised Statutes § § 194.070 to 194.100.)

In Missouri, 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.

In Missouri, 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 a casket, if you prefer.

Is alkaline hydrolysis available in Missouri?

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.

Missouri's laws do not allow alkaline hydrolysis by name. However, the process is considered a legal method of final disposition because Missouri lawmakers and the state funeral board consider the definition of "cremation" to include the process of alkaline hydrolysis. Missouri's definition of cremation is:

The technical heating process which reduces remains to bone fragments through heat and evaporation.

(See 20 CSR 2120-2.071).

This language was inclusive enough on its own to allow for alkaline hydrolysis without additional language permitting it. However, the state funeral board reviewed and approved a draft rule providing additional clarification that alkaline hydrolysis is permitted under state law, according to Funeral Business Advisor Magazine.

This process is often referred to as "aquamation" or "flameless cremation" in Missouri. Hughes Funeral Alternatives in St. Louis was the first funeral home in Missouri to offer flameless cremation. Before opening the facility, its owners obtained approval from the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, the Department of Natural Resources, and the city.

Henry Funeral and Cremation Services, also in St. Louis, reported in 2018 that it charges $895 for flameless cremation, which is similar to the cost that it charges for traditional cremation. Paul Funeral Home in St. Charles also reported that several families had used its flameless cremation services.

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. The burial ground must not exceed one acre, and it must be deeded in trust to the county commission. You must file the deed with the county clerk within 60 days. (Missouri Revised Statutes 214.090.)

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. 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 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, 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. 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.

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 Missouri, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Missouri.

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.

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