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.
In Vermont, most death certificates are available within a few days of the death. Typically, the funeral home, mortuary, cremation organization, or other person in charge of the deceased person's remains will prepare the death certificate, though a medical professional will certify the cause of death information. (See the Vermont Department of Health.) 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 the death certificate after some time has passed, visit the website of the Vermont Department of Health. On the VDH website, you'll find information on ordering a death certificate by mail or online. Each certified copy of a Vermont death certificate costs $10 by mail, and $12 when ordered online.
In Vermont, certified copies of death certificates are available only to the following people and organizations:
(See 18 V.S.A. § 5016(b)(2).) Other people may obtain only noncertified copies of the death certificate.
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 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. 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.
Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Vermont in 2014. A crematory may now provide for final disposition by "cremation, alkaline hydrolysis, or natural organic reduction." (26 V.S.A. § 1211.)
While water cremation or aquamation is now recognized in Vermont, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service. 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.)
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property is possible in Vermont. (18 V.S.A. § 5319(a).) You'll need to obtain a burial transit permit and follow state laws setting out specific rules for the depth of burial, the minimum distance from a groundwater source, and the like. (See 18 V.S.A. § 5319(b).) Before conducting a home burial, also check with the town or county clerk and local health department for the rules you must follow, as each county will have its own rules. You'll also need to draw a map of where the burial site is located on the property, and file it with the town clerk's office. (For more details about home burial, see Vermont Home Funeral Laws.)
In 2015, Vermont also passed a law permitting landowners to create a "natural burial ground," defined as:
a cemetery maintained using ecological land management practices and without the use of vaults for the burial of unembalmed human remains or human remains embalmed using nontoxic embalming fluids and that rest in either no burial container or in a nontoxic, nonhazardous, plant-derived burial container or shroud.
(18 V.S.A. § 5302.) In other words, landowners can create private cemeteries that employ land management practices that are more environmentally sensitive than those used by traditional cemeteries. For example, natural burial grounds don't require burial vaults—concrete containers that are supposed to prevent graves from sinking—and will allow bodies to be buried without a casket.
But if you create a natural burial ground, you won't be able to make certain improvements on that location. And any deed transferring the property must make note of this restriction. (18 V.S.A. § 5323.)
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 Private Property Burials page (made by Vermont Department of Health).
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. 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 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, campsites, facilities, developed areas, 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 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 rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.
For more information about funeral laws in Vermont, see Vermont 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.