Burial and Cremation Laws in North Dakota

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

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

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 answers to some common questions about post-death matters in North Dakota.

How do I get a death certificate in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, a funeral director must file the death certificate with the state registrar within three days after assuming custody of the body. (N.D. Cent. Code § 23-02.1-19.) 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 North Dakota Department of Health. From the DOH website, you can find instructions for ordering death certificates by mail, fax, online, or in person.

You must provide a copy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government-issued photo ID, when you order the death certificate. The first certified copy of a North Dakota death certificate costs $5; additional copies are $2 each.

Who can order a death certificate in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, there are three kinds of certified death certificates:

Certified copy of complete death record. This is a complete death certificate, including the deceased person's Social Security number and the cause of death. This type of record might be necessary to claim life insurance benefits or to handle other transactions where the cause of death is required. If you get a certification of facts (below) you can exchange it, free of charge, for a certified death record for up to 90 days following the date of death.

Certified copy of death record that includes facts of death. This type of death certificate does not include the cause of death. It does, however, include the deceased person's Social Security Number and other facts of death. It's available immediately after the death certificate is filed. Immediate family members can use it to handle many banking and property transactions on behalf of the deceased person's estate.

Informational copy of death record. This type of certificate is useful for genealogists or others who need a death record but do not need the deceased person's Social Security number or cause of death. It's available to the general public.

The following individuals may order a certified copy of the complete death record or one that includes facts of death:

  • the deceased person's surviving spouse, parent, legal guardian, child, grandparent, or grandchild, or genetic sibling
  • an authorized representative of one of the people named above
  • the funeral director reporting the facts of death, and
  • anyone with a court order.

In addition, any licensed attorney may obtain a copy of a certification of the facts of death if it is needed for a legal reason. An informational copy of a death record is available to anyone who requests it.

For more information, see North Dakota Century Code § 23-02.1-27 and the website of the North Dakota Department of Health.

In North Dakota, who completes the death certificate?

Two people must complete the death certificate in North Dakota. The funeral director fills in the personal data about the deceased person after gathering the information from the next of kin. Separately, a medical professional fills out the medical certification portion of the death certificate (including the cause of death). This medical professional is the physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner who was caring for the deceased person for the condition or illness that caused the death.

If there was no attending physician at the time of death or when inquiry is necessary, the coroner investigates the cause of death and completes and files the medical certification. (N.D. Cent. Code § 23-02.1-19.)

Is embalming required in North Dakota?

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 North Dakota, embalming is required only in a few circumstances. A body must be embalmed or refrigerated if it will be transported but cannot reach its final destination within 48 hours—but you have a choice. If the body can't reach its destination within 72 hours, then it must be embalmed. Finally, embalming is required if the death was due to certain communicable diseases. (N.D. Admin. Code § 33-06-15-01.)

In North Dakota, 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 North Dakota, 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.

Where can bodies be buried in North Dakota?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible with permission of the health department. (See N.D. Cent. Code § 23-06-20.) If you want to establish a private cemetery, you must have the land surveyed and record the plat with the deed. Before proceeding with burial on private land, check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws that may apply.

Before burying a body, the funeral director or practitioner must obtain a final disposition-transit permit. The permit is filed in the office of the county recorder in the county where the body will be recorded. (N.D. Cent. Code § 23-02.1-21.)

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, no state law controls 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, 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.

More 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 North Dakota, see North Dakota 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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