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 South Carolina.
You may need several copies of the death certificate. You might want a copy for your personal records or, if you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you may require multiple, official copies to carry out your job. You will 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.
In South Carolina, most death certificates are filed electronically within five days of the death. (South Carolina Code § 44-63-84). The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask the person or organization that files the certificate to order them for you at the time of the death; usually this will be a funeral home, mortuary, or crematory. If you are the executor of the estate, you should ask for at least ten certified copies.
If you need to order copies of a death certificate after the time of death has passed, visit the website of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. From the DHEC website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information about applying for death certificates in-person, online, or by phone.
To order certified copies of a death certificate, you must provide a photocopy of a current government, school, or employer photo ID. The first certified copy of a South Carolina death certificate costs $12; additional copies cost $3 each.
In South Carolina, certified copies of a death certificate may be issued only to the following individuals:
Others may obtain a “death statement,” confirming that the occurred, including the date and place of death. After 50 years, death records become public and anyone can obtain a full, uncertified copy of a death certificate.
For more details, see South Carolina Code § 44-63-84 and the website of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The funeral director gathers personal information about the deceased person from the next of kin and also obtains the medical certification. The physician in charge of the patient's care for the illness or condition that resulted in death must complete and return the medical certification of the cause of death within 48 hours. If the cause of death was not due to natural causes or is referred to the medical examiner or coroner for investigation.
If the cause of death can't be determined within 48 hours after death, the physician, medical examiner, or coroner must note that the case is pending and then file a supplemental report once the cause of death is determined. (South Carolina Code § 44-63-84).
Embalming, the process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration, is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.
In South Carolina, there are no laws or regulations requiring embalming.
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The cost can range from around $500 to $20,000 or even more.
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. Federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. You may also build your own casket.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but there are no state laws in South Carolina that prohibit burial on private property. Local governments may have rules governing private burials, however. Before conducting a home burial, check with the town or county clerk and local health department for any rules you must follow.
If you do 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 South Carolina, 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. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.
In a scattering garden. Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information.
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 is wise to obtain permission from the landowner.
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.
At sea. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. 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 South Carolina, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.
By air. There are no state laws on the matter, but federal 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 Funeral Rule, which protects consumers in all states, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information about funeral laws in South Carolina, see Making Funeral Arrangements in South Carolina.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.
Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo) helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.