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 New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, a death record must be electronically filed within 36 hours and before the body is buried or cremated. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 5-C:62.) 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.
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 the death certificate after some time has passed, visit the website of the New Hampshire Division of Vital Records. There, you'll find a downloadable application for ordering death certificates by mail.
You must provide a copy of a valid ID, such as a government issued photo ID, at the time you order a death certificate. The first certified copy of a New Hampshire death certificate costs $15; additional copies are $10 each.
In New Hampshire, certified copies of death certificates are available only to those who can show they have a "direct and tangible interest" in the record. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 5-C:83.) This usually includes immediate family members, authorized legal representatives, and others who can show that they need the death certificate to establish a personal or property right.
If the record is more than 50 years old, it is available to anyone who requests it. Genealogists may also obtain a death certificate if they have a written statement from a member of the deceased person's immediate family. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 5-C:105.)
Two separate people are responsible for filling out the death certificate. The funeral director or designated agent contacts the next of kin to collect personal data about the deceased person. A medical professional fills out the medical certification portion (cause of death) of the death certificate and gives it to the funeral director within 36 hours from the time of death. Usually, this medical professional will be the attending physician, advanced practice RN, or physician assistant. Some circumstances will require a medical examiner to certify the cause of death. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 5-C:64.)
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.
In New Hampshire, if the body won't be buried or cremated within 48 hours of arriving at the funeral home, the body must be:
You can choose any of the above options. (See N.H. Rev. Stat. § 325:40-b.)
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.
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.
Water cremation was once (briefly) legal in New Hampshire, but now no longer is. The process was legalized in New Hampshire in 2006, but the law was later repealed before any facilities yet offered it. An effort to pass a new bill legalizing the process in 2009 and again in 2013-14 failed, with the Catholic church of New Hampshire opposing this type of cremation. (See this U.S. News article on the legalization of aquamation.)
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in New Hampshire. New Hampshire law lays out certain requirements, such as a minimum distance from:
(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 289.3.) In addition, before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, you'll need to check local zoning regulations, which can vary by county. Before transferring the property to another person, you'll need to record the location of the private burial site in the deed. Contact your county register of deeds for more information.
In New Hampshire, 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, campsites, developed areas, 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 the contact information for the EPA representative in New Hampshire, 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.
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 New Hampshire, see New Hampshire 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.