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 Nevada.
In Nevada, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within 72 hours after the date or discovery of the death. (Nev. Rev. Stat. § 440.490.) 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. The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask this person or organization 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 time has passed, visit the website of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. From there, you'll find information about how to order death certificates online, by phone, or in person.
When ordering death certificates, you must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government-issued photo ID. Each certified copy of a Nevada death certificate costs $22-25, depending on the county.
In Nevada, only qualified applicants can obtain a copy of a death certificate. To be eligible, you must show that you have a "direct and tangible interest" in the record. This includes:
The funeral director completes the death certificate with input from the next of kin and medical professionals. The physician who last attended the deceased person usually provides the following information:
If the death occurred without medical attendance, the funeral director notifies the local health officer, coroner, or coroner's deputy of the death and refers it for investigation and completion of the medical certification. (Nevada Rev. Stat. §§ 440.380 and 440.420.)
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 not usually necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.
However, embalming regulations are more severe in Nevada than in most other states. The Nevada Board of Health requires a body to be embalmed:
If embalming is not required by the Board of Health, a funeral home or other place in charge of disposition may not require embalming until at least 72 hours have passed, and then only if there is no known objection by family or any other person authorized to direct final disposition of the body. (Nev. Rev. Stat. § 451.065.)
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 tell you that you may use another kind of container, and to make such containers available to you. An alternative container may be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
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.
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.
Alkaline hydrolysis was explicitly allowed in Nevada in May 2017. Nevada law now defines alkaline hydrolysis as:
1. Reduction of human remains to bone fragments through a water-based process of dissolution using alkaline chemicals and agitation to accelerate natural decomposition; and
2. Processing of the hydrolyzed human remains after their removal from the container in which the process of dissolution occurs.
(Nev. Rev. Stat. § 451.607.) Alkaline hydrolysis facilities must obtain a license from the Nevada Funeral and Cemetery Services Board.
While water cremation or aquamation is recognized by Nevada law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service. The equipment is expensive and public demand is still small, though it's growing. With time, facilities offering water cremation are likely to become more commonplace.
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.)
Before burying a body, the funeral director must obtain a burial permit. (Nev. Rev. Stat. § 440.500.) Most bodies are buried in cemeteries, but burial on private property is possible in Nevada. Nevada law states that, if the county commissioners consent, family cemeteries may be established in counties with populations of fewer than 55,000 people. If you are considering a home burial, find out whether your county has passed an ordinance allowing family cemeteries. If it has, you must notify the Health Division of the Department of Health and Human Services of the location of the family cemetery before conducting the first burial there. (See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 451.067.)
In Nevada, 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 Nevada, 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 prohibit dropping anything that could harm 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.
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 Nevada, see Nevada 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.