Frequently Asked Questions



It is important that you know about burial and cremation laws in Alabama. Each state has its own set of rules that govern what happens to a body when it dies. An example, most states have unique rules about embalming, burial, or cremation, scattering ashes, and how to get a death certificate. Here are a few answers to some of the most common questions

By planning in advance, you can make informed choices, compare prices and options, and discuss your preferences with your family. The results can be peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.

You can ask friends or relatives for referrals, check the Internet or the Yellow Pages, or consult the Better Business Bureau.  In some areas, there are funeral consumer groups or organizations that offer help and guidance.  The Funeral Bureau licenses all funeral establishments (and funeral directors) operating in Alabama.  The Bureau does not license cemeteries that are operated by religious institutions, a cemetery direct or other government entity, the military, Native American tribal organizations, or other groups.  Visit the Bureau’s Web site to verify license status for your state.

You should create a written pre-need plan.  Most funeral establishments and cemeteries offer pre-arrangement guides you can fill out to keep and share with your family.   You may want to consult an attorney about including your pre-need information in your will or other legal materials

Only you can make changes to your arrangements before they are needed.  If your instructions are clear and you’ve de provisions to pay for the costs, your survivors cannot make changes.  Survivors can make changes only if your documents allow changes or if the arrangements are incomplete, unclear or not fully paid for.

Prepaying spares your survivors the burden of arranging payment.  It also keeps you in control of the costs and ensures that your wishes can and will be carried out.

Prepayment methods include life insurance, funeral insurance, funeral trusts, and bank held trust or saving accounts.  You may wish to consult an attorney and Medicare or Medicaid, if applicable, before making a decision about paying for pre-need expenses.  You may also make arrangements with the funeral home of your choice or our Oakwood Memorial Gardens.

Here are four common ways to pay for Pre-Need services.  Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Life Insurances specifically purchased for funeral arrangements will pay a fixed amount based on the face value of the policy.
  • Funeral Insurance can be purchased in an amount to pay for services, merchandise, and cemetery cost. Before you purchase a funeral trust, you should get answers to the following questions:  are the costs guaranteed? What are the cancellation terms?  If the trust fund increases in value, who will received any remaining money after the contract is fulfilled?  What happens if the death occurs before the trust is paid in full?
  • Bank-held trusts or savings accounts are accounts you establish to pay for funeral expenses. It is up to you to let your family and the funeral provider know about the money in the account.  The cost of funeral services and merchandise is usually not guaranteed with this type of account.
  • Funeral Insurance Buy funeral insurance through the funeral home or cemetery establishment, which becomes your beneficiary. You preselect the casket, grave or services, etc., and the cost may be guaranteed. If the cost is guaranteed, the funeral establishment cannot charge your relatives more than the contract states, even if the prices rise.  However, it can keep any funds remaining after the arrangements have been carried out.

Before you sign any contract, consider the following:

  • Are there any costs not included in the pre-need contract that would have to be paid at the time of need? If so, who would pay them?
  • Are the prices quoted on the contact guaranteed?
  • Can the arrangements be transferred to another funeral establishment and/or cemetery if you move or simply change your mind?
  • What happens to the contact if the establishment closes or is sold?
  • Exactly who holds the pre-need funds and how can you contact the company?
  • Exactly who holds the pre-need funds and how can you contact the company?
  • If interest is earned on the account, who pays the taxes on the income earned?
  • Can you cancel the contract and, if so, what would the penalty be?

In Alabama, the following individuals are permitted to apply for a certified copy of a death certificate:

  • The spouse, mother, father, child, or sibling of the deceased person
  • The grandchild of a deceased person when the record is necessary for the determination or protection of his or her personal property rights
  • The legal representative of the family of the deceased person’s estate, or
  • A person listed on the death certificate as an informant who provided information.

Local, state, and federal agencies and public or private agencies who are conducting their official duties may request copies of death certificates for statistical or administrative purposes.  (Alabama Code: 22-9A-22.)

Anyone can obtain a death certificate for someone who has died more than 25 years ago.

In Alabama, a death must be registered with the local office of vital statistics within fie days. The body may not be buried or cremated until the death certificate is filed. (Alabama Code: 22-9A-14(a).) Typically, the funeral home, mortuary, cremation organization, or another person in charge of the deceased person’s remains will prepare and file the death certificate.

The physician in charge of the patient for the illness or medical condition that caused the patient’s death completes the medical certification section of the death certificate and returns it to the Office of Vital Statistics within 48 hours after receiving it. If there is no physician in charge of the deceased person, the county medical examiner determines the cause of death and completes the medical certification within 48 hours after receiving it.

You may need to obtain copies of a death certificate for a number of reasons. You may simply want to keep 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 business affairs. 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 others.

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, go to the health department in the county where the death occurred, or visit the Alabama Department of Public Health online. From the ADPH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find a link to order certificates online.

The first certified copy of an Alabama death certificate costs $15; additional copies are $6 each when you order them at the same time as the first copy. There is an extra fee if you use the only ordering system. You must provide identification at the time you make the request.

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration of the remains.  Though it is still a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose, therefore, embalming is not required by law in the state of Alabama.   

A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death.  The cost of a casket can range from a simple $250 box to $30,000 or more for an elaborate design.  Some people prefer to forgo a casket altogether. 

Burial  No law required a casket for burial.  However, you should check with the cemetery; it may have rules requiring a certain type of container. 

Cremation  No law required 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 can be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard. 

No.  While it’s true that, in the state of Alabama, only licensed funeral directors may sell caskets (Alabama Code: 34-13-1(a)(25)), 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. 

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries but there are no laws in Alabama that prohibit home burial.  Before establishing a family cemetery at home, you should check the local zoning rules. You may be able to create a family cemetery and hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.  You must obtain a burial permit from the local registrar of the district where the death occurred before burying someone.  (Alabama Code:  22-19-3)

In Alabama, there are no state laws governing where you may keep or scatter ashes.  Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health reis involved.  Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in public places where they would be obvious to others. 

Scattering ashes on private land is allowed.  It must be your own 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 will need to check with both the city and county ordinances and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as a city park.  However, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgement 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, or waterways.  You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks.  For more information, begin you search at the website of National Park Services.

Scattering ashes at sea according to the Federal Clean Water Act required that cremated remains be scattered a 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, including the contact information from the EPA representative in Alabama, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website. 

Scattering ashes by air has no state laws on this 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 the container before scattering.