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 Vermont.
If you will be wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you will want multiple official copies of the death certificate. You will need to submit a certified copy 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 Vermont, most death certificates are filed within a few days of the death. (See 18 V.S.A. § 5207.) 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 the death certificate later, your next step depends on when the death occurred:
For deaths that occurred on or after January 1, 2009, visit the website of the Vermont Department of Health. On the VDH website, you can fill in a mail-in order form, which you will then submit with the fee. Each certified copy of a Vermont death certificate costs $10.
For deaths that occurred before January 1, 2009, visit the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration and follow the instructions there. The fees are the same.
Unlike most states, death certificates are public records in Vermont. Anyone may order a copy, and there is no need to present personal identification to do so.
In Vermont, there are no laws or regulations requiring embalming, the process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Though it is still fairly common, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The cost can range from $500 for a simple box to $20,000 or more for an elaborate design.
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, if you prefer.
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.
Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Vermont in 2014. 26 V.S.A. 21 § 1211 includes a "location devoted to the disposition of dead human bodies by means of . . . alkaline hydrolysis" in the definition of a crematory establishment. Individuals who perform alkaline hydrolysis must obtain a license by the state and are subject to rules by the state licensing board. (See 26 V.S.A. 21 § 1252.)
Although no funeral homes in Vermont currently offer alkaline hydrolysis, you can look for alkaline hydrolysis services in the handful of states where the process is both legal and available to the public, such as Florida, Illinois, Maine, or Minnesota.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is sometimes possible in Vermont. Before conducting a home burial, check with the town or county clerk and local health department for the rules you must follow. If you obtain approval for a family cemetery, you should draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the town clerk. (For more details about home burial, see Vermont Home Funeral Laws.)
In 2015, Vermont passed a law permitting landowners to create "natural burial grounds." These will be private cemeteries that employ land management practices that are more environmentally sensitive than those used by traditional cemeteries. For example, natural burial grounds won't require burial vaults -- concrete containers that are supposed to prevent graves from sinking -- and will allow bodies to be buried without a casket. (To read the new law, see Vermont Law 25 (2015).)
To find out more about burial rules in Vermont, see Digging Deep: Unearthing the Mysteries of Burial and Cemetery Law (published by the Vermont Secretary of State) and the website of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Vermont.
In Vermont, 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.
Vermont provides guidance for cremation, including the scattering of ashes, on the Cremation and Burial at Sea page of the Vermont Department of Health website.
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 is wise to obtain 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. 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 Vermont, 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.
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 Vermont, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Vermont.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.