Burial & Cremation Laws in Nebraska

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

Updated by , Attorney University of Arkansas School of Law
Updated 5/31/2023

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 Nebraska.

How do I get a death certificate in Nebraska?

If you'll be wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you'll need 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 (typically the funeral home, mortuary, or crematory) 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 the time of death has passed, contact the local health department or go to the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services. From there, you'll find information for ordering death certificates online or by mail.

When you order a copy of a death certificate, you must send a copy of valid, government-issued identification such as a driver's license or passport. Nebraska death certificates cost $16 per copy.

Who can order a death certificate in Nebraska?

In Nebraska, you can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate if you can show that you need the record for a "proper purpose." Such purposes include:

  • establishing the fact or death or identity in a probate or estate action
  • transferring title to a motor vehicle or other property
  • obtaining government documents, and
  • determining a legal relationship with another person or for a property right such as an inheritance, insurance, or dependency benefit

For the full list of proper purposes that qualify you to get a certified copy of a death certificate, see Neb. Admin. Code, tit. 174 § 3-004.

In Nebraska who completes the death certificate?

Nebraska law states that the "funeral director and embalmer in charge of the funeral" must fill out the personal details on the death certificate and file it within five business days after the death. The attending physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner has 24 hours from the time of death to complete the medical section of the death certificate (which states cause of death) electronically. If there was no attending medical professional, the funeral director and embalmer must refer the case to the county attorney. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 71-605.)

Is embalming required in Nebraska?

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. The procedure is rarely necessary; refrigeration is simpler and serves the same purpose.

Nebraska regulations require a body to be embalmed only if:

  • the death was due to a communicable disease, unless the body was encased immediately after death in a 20-gauge-steel hermetically sealed container, or
  • the body will be shipped by common carrier (such as an airplane or train), unless the body was encased immediately after death in a 20-gauge-steel hermetically sealed container.

(Neb. Admin. Code, tit. 172, § 68-006.)

In addition, embalming, placement in a hermetically sealed container, or refrigeration is required within 24 hours of death. Refrigeration is allowed for up to eight days, after which the body must be buried, cremated, embalmed, or placed in a hermetically sealed container within 24 hours of removal from refrigeration.

In Nebraska, 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 Nebraska, do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?

No. In fact, under federal law, a funeral home cannot refuse to use a caskets that you buy from another source, such as an online retailer. You may even build the casket, if you prefer.

Where can bodies be buried in Nebraska?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Nebraska. All Nebraska burials, even home burials, must be supervised by a licensed funeral director, so you must find a local funeral director who is willing to help with your burial plans. (Neb. Admin. Code, tit. 172, §68-005.) You should also check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning and registration laws you must follow.

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

In Nebraska, 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. 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. You may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.

For more information, including contact information for Nebraska's EPA representative, 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.

More Resources

To learn about the federal rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.

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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