Each state has laws affecting what happens to a body after death. For example, most states have rules about embalming, burial or cremation, scattering ashes, and how to get a death certificate. Here are answers to common questions about post-death matters in Ohio.
If you're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you may need 10 or more certified copies of the death certificate. You will need to submit one copy each time you claim property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person, including life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable-on-death bank accounts, veterans benefits, and many others.
In Ohio, every death must be recorded with the local registrar of vital statistics before final disposition of the body. The funeral director or other person in charge of the body must present the death certificate to the last attending physician who treated the deceased person for the illness or condition that resulted in death. The physician has 48 hours to complete the certificate and return it. If death did not occur under natural causes, the coroner in the county where the death occurred or medical examiner certifies the cause of death. The funeral director of other person in charge of the body can then file the certificate with the registrar. (Ohio Revised Code § 3705.16.)
The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask the person who files the certificate (usually the director of a funeral home, mortuary, or crematory) to order them for you at the time of the death.
To order more copies of the death certificate later, go to the website of the Ohio Department of Health, where you'll find options to order death certificates online, by mail, or in person at the local office.
There are no restrictions on who may order a certified copy of a death certificate in Ohio; vital records are considered public. Each certified copy of an Ohio death certificate costs $21.50.
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 Ohio, there are no laws or regulations requiring embalming.
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. Under federal law, funeral homes are required to accept caskets bought from another source, such as an online retailer. You may also build the casket.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private land in Ohio may be possible. (The Ohio Attorney General has explicitly stated that no board of township trustees or local board of may prohibit burial on private property.) Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, however, you should check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws you must follow. If you bury a body on private land, you should draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the property deed, so the location will be clear to others in the future.
In Ohio, 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.
An established scattering garden. Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you're interested, ask the cemetery for more information.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ohio, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea.
Scattering ashes by air. There are no Ohio laws on the matter, but federal aviation laws 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 Ohio, see Ohio 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.