Washington State Cremation Laws – Ultimate Guide

by ECL Writer
How Much Is Cremation Cost In Washington State?

Washington State Cremation Laws. While the mention of legal regulations surrounding the end-of-life process might not be a common conversation starter, understanding these laws is crucial for both residents and those who wish to navigate the intricate terrain of cremation within the state.

Cremation, an increasingly popular choice for end-of-life arrangements, offers a unique way to honor the deceased while respecting their wishes and the environment. However, like any significant decision, it is vital to comprehend the legal framework that governs this practice in Washington State. From the environmental impact of cremation to the documentation required for the process, this Eastcoastlaws.com article will delve into the intricate world of cremation laws in Washington State, shedding light on the regulations that guide this poignant journey.

Who Can Order A Death Certificate In Washington?

It’s possible for families to differ on how to bury a loved one. One of the reasons there are restrictions on who can approve a cremation or burial is because of this.

According to the website of the Washington State Department of Licensing, a licensed funeral home must adhere to the following procedure when given authorization to cremate:

  • Deceased’s designated agent, as directed through a valid written document expressing their preferred method of final disposition 
  • surviving spouse or state-registered domestic partner
  • majority of the surviving adult children
  • surviving parents
  • majority of your siblings
  • court-appointed guardian

Similarly, only individuals or organizations with qualifying relationships to the deceased person can order a death certificate in Washington.

Here’s who can order a death certificate in Washington:

  • the spouse or domestic partner, parent, stepparent, child, stepchild, sibling, grandparent, great-grandparent, grandchild, legal guardian, legal representative, or other next of kin of the deceased
  • a funeral director or staff at a funeral establishment
  • a government agency or court

How To Get Death Certificate In Washington

Before the body is buried or cremated in Washington, the person in responsibility of ultimate disposition (often a funeral director) is required to file a death certificate with the local registrar within five days after the death. (RCW § 70.58A.200.) Asking the entity that files the death certificate (often the funeral home, morgue, or crematory) to place an order for copies for you at the time of the death is the simplest approach to obtaining copies of the death certificate.

For a variety of reasons, you could require copies of a death certificate. You may require many official copies to complete your duties if you are in charge of finalizing the deceased person’s affairs. Every time you apply for property or benefits that belonged to the deceased, such as life insurance proceeds, Social Security payments, payable-on-death accounts, veterans benefits, and many others, you must produce a certified copy of the death certificate. Ask for at least ten certified copies if you are the estate’s executor.

Visit the Washington State Department of Health website if you need to purchase copies of a death certificate. From there, you can order death certificates over the phone, online, by mail, or in person. A duplicate death certificate in Washington costs $25.

Who Completes The Death Certificate In Washington State

The funeral director obtains personal data about the deceased from the next of kin before filling up the death certificate. The medical expert who has knowledge of the patient’s time of death and cause of death provides the director with a medical certification as well. The doctor, physician’s assistant, or advanced registered nurse practitioner who most recently treated the deceased person is often this medical professional. The funeral director has two days to provide the doctor with the medical certification, and the doctor has two days to give it back. The municipal registrar receives the completed death certificate after the funeral director has filed it.

The medical examiner, coroner, or municipal health officer with legal power certifies the cause of death in place of the doctor if the death happened without medical attention.

Is Embalming Required In Washington?

Blood is removed from the body and replaced with fluids that prevent disintegration during the embalming procedure. Even though it is still done frequently, refrigeration can often fulfill the same function.

A body may be embalmed or kept cold in Washington until it is time for burial or cremation. A family member or the decedent’s legal representative must give the embalmer authorization before embalming a body.

Is Casket Necessary For Burial Or Cremation In Washington?

The cost of a casket is sometimes the biggest one incurred following a death. A casket typically costs more than $2,000, but for more ornate designs and pricey materials, the price can reach $10,000–$20,000. Some people would rather not use a coffin at all, whether because of the price or for other reasons.

Burial

You are not required by law to bury a body in a casket in Washington. The cemetery of your choice might, however, have stringent requirements for the type of casket you can utilize. If you don’t have enough knowledge, you shouldn’t purchase the casket.

Cremation

Anyone who is thinking about having their loved one’s remains cremated as a last disposition should also examine the cremation coffin or other container. The crematory/funeral home is required by federal law to show you the alternative containers. Make sure the cremation caskets are readily available to you. Alternative containers are typically made out of pressed wood, raw wood, cardboard, or fiberboard.

Do I Have To Buy A Casket From The Funeral Home In Washington

No. Funeral houses are required by federal law to accept caskets that customers have acquired from another source, such as an online merchant, despite the fact that they may occasionally be quite pushy about trying to induce you to buy caskets from them. If you’d like, you can also create your own casket.

Is Water Cremation Available In Washington?

Alkaline hydrolysis, often referred to as “water cremation,” “flameless cremation,” “aquamation,” and various other terms, is a chemical process that transforms a body into liquid and bone components. This eco-friendly alternative to traditional cremation is gaining popularity for its lower energy consumption and minimal environmental impact.

In 2020, Washington officially recognized aquamation, explicitly incorporating alkaline hydrolysis as a legitimate method of final disposition (RCW § 68.50.110). The state also provided a clear definition of “alkaline hydrolysis” within its regulations governing cemeteries, morgues, and human remains:

“Alkaline hydrolysis” or “hydrolysis” refers to the process of reducing human remains to bone fragments and essential elements in a licensed hydrolysis facility using heat, pressure, water, and base chemical agents (RCW § 68.04.290).

While water cremation, or aquamation, is legally recognized, the availability of facilities offering this service in Washington may be limited. This could necessitate traveling a distance to access the service, as the equipment is costly, and public demand is still relatively low, though it is gradually increasing. Over time, water cremation facilities are expected to become more widespread.

If you are considering this option for yourself or a loved one, it may be wise to explore pre-planning your final arrangements. Water cremation typically comes with a slightly higher price tag compared to traditional cremation (for example, in a 2023 NPR interview on water cremation, one funeral home priced its water cremation service at $1,000 more than traditional cremation).

Where Can Bodies Be Buried In Washington?

Bodies must be interred in recognized cemeteries in Washington. Corporations must manage all cemeteries. If you have all the necessary permits to set up a cemetery, then you can only bury the dead on private land. The Revised Code of Washington, Chapter 68.20, contains the regulations governing cemeteries.

The funeral director or other person with the authority to oversee the disposition of remains must have burial-transit permission before a body can be buried or burned. (This license is granted following the submission of the completed death certificate to the local registrar.) This authorization is given by the funeral director to the person in charge of the burial or, if the body is being transported to another location, is attached to the container carrying the body.

What Are The Essential Criteria When Deciding Between Cremation And Burial?

It’s one of the most important decisions to make when it comes to preparing a funeral. Knowing which form of final disposal you will have can help choose the funeral home.

It’s a personal choice when it comes to cremation or burial. On a side note, more than 70% of the residents in Washington go with cremation. On top of everything else, cremation is less expensive than a conventional funeral. It’s also more environmentally friendly than a traditional burial.

Where To Store Or Scatter Ashes After Cremation In Washington

There are no state regulations governing the placement of cremated remains in Washington. You can keep ashes at home in a crypt, niche, grave, or container. You have a variety of possibilities if you want to disperse ashes. In general, employ caution and avoid scattering ashes where they might be visible to others.

On the Funerals and Cemeteries page of the Washington State Department of Licensing, Washington offers instructions for cremation, including the scattering of cremated remains.

  • Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden

Many cemeteries provide designated gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested in this option, please inquire with the cemetery for more information.

  • Scattering ashes on private land

You have the option to scatter ashes on your own private property. However, if you intend to scatter ashes on someone else’s private land, it is advisable to obtain permission from the landowner.

  • Scattering ashes on public land

When considering scattering ashes on local public land, like a city park, it’s essential to review both city and county regulations as well as zoning rules. In Washington State, the Department of Licensing indicates that ashes may be scattered on state trust uplands if you obtain permission from the regional manager for each scattering. While many individuals proceed with scattering on public state or local land, it is recommended to use your best judgment and be respectful of the environment.

  • Scattering ashes on federal land

Officially, you should seek permission before scattering ashes on federal land. However, similar to local or state land, you are likely to face no opposition if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and ensure that the ashes remain well away from trails, roads, facilities, developed areas, campsites, and waterways. Some national parks provide guidelines for scattering ashes, which can be found on their respective websites. For additional information, you can initiate your search on the National Park Service’s website.

  • Scattering ashes at sea

The federal Clean Water Act stipulates that cremated remains must be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools near the sea. Furthermore, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea. For more details, including the EPA contact person for Washington state, please refer to the EPA’s page on Burial at Sea.

  • Scattering ashes on state-controlled waterways

The Washington State Department of Licensing specifies that ashes may be scattered over “public navigable waters under state control, including Puget Sound, rivers, streams, and lakes.”

  • Scattering ashes by air

While there are no specific state laws regarding scattering ashes by air, federal aviation laws prohibit dropping objects that could potentially harm individuals or damage property. The U.S. government does not classify cremains as hazardous material; therefore, it is acceptable as long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering them.

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