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 § 26B–8–114.) 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 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 § 26B–8–125.
Two people must complete the death certificate in Utah. The funeral director fills in the personal data, obtained from the next of kin. Separately, a health care professional in charge of the deceased person's care for the condition or illness that caused the death fills in the medical section of the certificate (stating the cause of death). This health care professional has 72 hours after the death to return the death certificate to the funeral director. The funeral director must file the completed death certificate 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 § 26B–8–114.)
Additional rules apply if no health care professional was treating the deceased, or if the cause of death requires investigation by a medical examiner. (Utah Code § 26B-8-114.)
Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Though it is still common, embalming is rarely necessary, because refrigeration serves the same purpose.
In Utah, you'll usually have a choice to embalm or refrigerate a body. If the body won't be buried or cremated within 24 hours of death, it must be either embalmed or refrigerated to a temperature colder than 40 degrees Farenheit. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-4.)
However, if a body will be shipped by common carrier—for example, a plane or train—it usually must be embalmed and also placed in a strong 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 method, such as an air-tight metal casket encased in a strong outside shipping case. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-3.)
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. 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. 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.
Utah began to recognize alkaline hydrolysis in 2018, when it passed laws setting out requirements for funeral service establishments offering the service. (See Utah Stat. § 58-9-613.) It also added this definition:
(Utah Stat. § 58-9-102.) While water cremation or aquamation is recognized by law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service in Utah, which might mean traveling a distance to access it. The equipment is expensive and public demand is still small, though it's growing. With time, facilities offering water cremation are likely to become more commonplace.
If you're interested in this option for yourself, you may want to explore pre-planning your final arrangements. Water cremation tends to cost a little more than traditional cremation. (For example, see this 2023 NPR interview on water cremation in which one funeral home prices its water cremation service at $1,000 more than traditional cremation.)
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. 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're allowed to scatter ashes on private property, but Utah law requires that you first obtain the consent of the property owner. (Utah Code § 58-9-611.)
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, developed areas, campsites, 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 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 rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.
For more information about funeral laws in Utah, see Utah 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.