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 Utah.
In Utah, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within five days of the death and before the body is buried, cremated, or shipped out of the area. (Utah Code § 26-2-13.) 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.
You may need to obtain copies of a death certificate for a number of reasons. If you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you'll need 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, such as life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable-on-death accounts, and veterans benefits.
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. 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 Utah Department of Health. From the DOH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information about ordering death certificates in-person, online, or by phone.
You must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government issued photo ID. The first certified copy of a Utah death certificate costs $30; additional copies ordered at the same time cost $10 each.
In Utah, unless the death occurred more than 50 years ago, a death certificate may be issued to anyone who can show a “direct, tangible, and legitimate interest” in the certificate. Those who have such an interest include:
For more details, see Utah Code § 26-2-22.
The health care professional in charge of the deceased person's care must complete when the medical certification within 72 hours of death unless the cause of death is not due to natural causes. If this health care professional is absent or otherwise approves, a physician who performed an autopsy on the person can complete the medical certification if the physician has access to the medical history, the physician views the deceased person at or after death, and the death doesn't have to be investigated by the medical examiner. If the death is not due to natural causes or it has been more than 30 days after the deceased person was treated by a health care professional. If the case is referred to the medical examiner, he or she must complete the medical certification within 72 hours after taking charge of the case. If the cause of death can't be determined within 72 hours, the physician or medical examiner must give the funeral director the reason for the delay and the body can't be disposed of until the health care professional or medical examiner approves it. (Utah Code § 26-2-13.)
In Utah, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if it will not be buried or cremated within 24 hours of death. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-3.) Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration.
In addition, if a body will be shipped by common carrier -- for example, a plane or train -- it must be embalmed and placed in a sealed casket or metal container designed for the purpose of shipping a body. If embalming is not possible, the body must be placed in an approved, airtight container. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-2.)
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death, costing from about $500 to $20,000 or 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. In fact, 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 the casket yourself.
Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It is considered a greener alternative to cremation because it uses less energy than cremation and does not release matter into the atmosphere.
The Utah legislature approved a bill to allow alkaline hydrolysis and sent it to the governor in February 2018. The bill defined alkaline hydrolysis as:
A water-based dissolution process using alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes agitation or pressure that reduces human remains to a liquid and to dry bone residue and includes the disposal of the liquid and the processing and pulverization of the dry bone residue.
The law was passed in May 2018.
Although Utah has legalized alkaline hydrolysis, there are not any funeral homes that currently offer the service. To find an alkaline hydrolysis provider for a human body, you’ll have to look to one of the few states where the process is both legal and available to the public, such as Florida, Illinois, Maine, or Minnesota.
The hospital must receive a burial transit permit before it can release the body. Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Utah. Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, 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 Utah, 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 them. 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 well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks, including Bryce Canyon in Utah, which allows scattering by permit only.
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. There are no state 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 Funeral Rule, which protects consumers in all states, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information about funeral laws in Utah, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Utah.
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.