End of Life Legal Questions and Answers
for NC Residents

 

 

NC Legislative Building

 

Please remember that legislation changes over time.

 

How will my family member get from home to the funeral home or crematory?
If you are using the services of a funeral home, they offer transportation (for a fee). If you are using a crematory, they may offer transportation or the coordination of transportation (for a fee). You may transport the body yourself. However, if you will be transporting the body across state lines, you must obtain a transit permit signed by the local medical examiner within 5 days of death. Contact the local health director in the county where the death occurred. If there is no county medical examiner, the Chief Medical Examiner must be contacted for the permit. Since the same individuals must be contacted to obtain a death certificate (which must be in place before a burial or cremation may take place), this can all be handled at the same time.
GS 130A-113

 

Is embalming required?
No. The law does not require it. However, if you decide to have a viewing more than a day or two after death, the funeral home will discuss the benefits of embalming (i.e. the physical aspects of a body decomposing) and they may be able to require embalming depending on the amount of time that will have passed between the time of death and the viewing.
(Funeral Rule)

 

Is a vault or burial liner required?
No. The law does not require it. However, cemeteries are allowed to set their own rules. Many require a vault or burial liner to keep the casket from sinking. This means less maintenance for them. However, if a cemetery tells you that you need a vault or burial liner to bury cremated remains, look elsewhere.
(Funeral Rule)

 

Can a member of the family act as the funeral director?
Yes and no. In NC, a family may bury their own dead. A death certificate is needed (see below) and you would need to check with your local health department to make sure the location that you have chosen poses no health risk such as possible contamination of a source of water. Some counties require a permit for the initiation of a cemetery or grave site to ensure that wells and sewage systems would not be impacted. Your local Planning and Zoning Department would be the contact for such a permit. However, if you have chosen an established graveyard, church graveyard, cemetery or memorial garden, the health and planning departments do not need to be consulted.

Please note that in NC, only licensed funeral directors may make funeral arrangements and call themselves funeral directors. Specific training and internship is required to be licensed. Consequently, if you choose to handle everything yourself, you may bathe and dress the body but you may not do it for pay or pay anyone else to do it other than an employee of a funeral home or crematory. Embalming or cremation may not be done by anyone other than a licensed, trained employee of either a funeral home or crematory.
§ 90-210.18. (a)

 

Can I bury my own dead?
Yes. (see above)

 

Who licenses funeral directors?
The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service.
§ 90-210.18. (b)

 

Can I get an itemized price list?
Yes. It is required by law. The funeral home must provide you with a written list of services and goods with the cost associated for each before discussions of options begin.
(Funeral Rule)

 

What type of contract will I receive?
The funeral director must give you a written signed statement showing the price of each of the services selected and what is included as part of each service, the price of each piece of merchandise selected, and an estimate of the cash advance amounts with their fee, if any, specified.
G.S. 90-210.25(e) (Funeral Rule)

 

Is the crematory allowed to charge me to identify the body?
No. It is the responsibility of the funeral home/crematory to positively identify each body before services are performed.
§ 90-210.29A

 

What are the legal requirements for a cremation container?
By law, you are not required to purchase a casket for cremation. However, the body must be enclosed in a cremation container. The requirements for the container are:

  • Be composed of readily combustible materials suitable for cremation;
  • Be able to be closed in order to provide a complete covering for the human remains;
  • Be resistant to leakage or spillage;
  • Be rigid enough for handling with ease;
  • Be able to provide protection for the health, safety and personal integrity of crematory personnel; and
  • Be able to be easily identifiable.

The covering of the cremation container shall contain the following information:
1. The name of the decedent;
2. The date of death;
3. The sex of the decedent; and
4. The age at death of the decedent.

§ 90-210.41. (9); § 90-210.48(a); § 90-210.49(g)

 

Can I be charged separately for cremation and the subsequent pulverization of the bone fragments?
No. By law, the definition of "cremated remains" is "all human remains recovered after the completion of the cremation process, including pulverization which leaves only bone fragments reduced to unidentifiable dimensions".
§ 90-210.49(g); § 90-210.45(8); § 90-210.41(7)(HB700-2003)

 

Am I allowed to scatter the ashes of my family member myself?
Yes.
§ 90-210.50(c)(f)

 

Can I transport cremated remains?
Yes. However, if you choose to send the remains via mail or other service, check with them about their agency policy.
§ 90-210.50(f)

 

Do I have to purchase an urn if I plan to scatter the ashes?
No. Containers for the ashes may be composed of cardboard, plastic or similar material which can be closed in a manner so as to prevent the leakage or spillage of the cremated remains or the entrance of foreign material. There must be a single container of sufficient size to hold the cremated remains until an urn is acquired or the cremated remains are scattered.
§ 90-210.48(b)

 

Where may I legally scatter or keep the ashes?
The ashes may be scattered or kept as follows:

  • crypt
  • niche
  • grave
  • scattering garden located in a cemetery
  • uninhabited public land
  • the sea or other public waterways
  • private property of a consenting adult

A person may keep the ashes at home without scattering, as well.
§ 90-210.50(c)(f)

 

Who oversees crematories?
The North Carolina Crematory Authority is a committee within the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service. They suggest rules to the Board.
§ 90-210.42 (a)

 

Are crematories licensed?
Yes.
§ 90-210.43(a)

 

If cremation is chosen, would a viewing also be possible?
Yes. Some funeral homes rent caskets for just that purpose. The cremation is held after. Or, you may choose to have the cremation first and display the urn during a memorial ceremony.

 

Who has the legal authority to authorize services for the deceased?

  • identified in a will
  • identified in a health care power of attorney
  • identified in a pre-need funeral contract
    (may not be cancelled after death by the agent)
  • identified on a cremation authorization form
  • If there is no written authorization:
    • surviving spouse
    • surviving children (majority; 18+; reasonable efforts to locate)
    • surviving parents
    • surviving siblings (majority; 18+; reasonable efforts to locate)
    • majority of the persons in the classes of the next degrees of kinship, in descending order, who, under state law, would inherit the decedent’s estate if the decedent died intestate who are at least 18 years of age and can be located after reasonable efforts
    • person who has exhibited special care and concern for the decedent and is willing and able to make decisions about the cremation and disposition
    • a public administrator, medical examiner, coroner, state-appointed guardian, or any other public official charged with arranging the final disposition
    • representative of organ donation organization
    • any person willing to assume responsibility

§90-210.44. (a)

 

Can my family decide not to honor my wish to be cremated?
Yes, if the intent is not written in a will or healthcare power of attorney. Even then, not many funeral homes or crematories will want to go against the wishes of the family who are standing right in front of them. However, if you sign a Cremation Authorization Form, get it signed by two witnesses, and send a copy on a "pre-need basis" (i.e. pre-pay) to a selected funeral home or crematory, no. The form has specific disclosure clauses.

  • ____ I do not wish to allow any of my survivors the option of canceling my cremation and selecting alternative arrangements, regardless of whether my survivors deem such a change to be appropriate.

  • ____ I wish to allow only the survivors whom I have designated below the option of canceling my cremation and selecting alternative arrangements or continuing to honor my wishes for cremation and purchasing services and merchandise if they deem such a change to be appropriate.

§90-210.46(b); §90-210.44(2); §90-210.50

 

Are immediate cremations allowed?
No cremation may take place until the crematory receives a death certificate. No cremation may take place within 24 hours after the time of death, unless death was the result of an infectious, contagious, or communicable and dangerous disease. Cremation is a final procedure and cannot be undone.

Sometimes the term "direct cremation" indicates that the cremation takes place as soon as possible with no or very limited services.
§ 90-210.49(a)(e)

 

Can I view the cremation?
Yes. Relatives of the deceased and their invitees and/or the authorizing agent and the agent’s invitees may have access to the crematory area. Some crematories may charge an additional fee if you spend an extended amount of time in the area. However, the Funeral Rule ensures that the family may see the body briefly without charge.
§ 90-210.49(f)

 

How do I obtain a death certificate?
Funeral homes and crematories need to have an official death certificate to proceed with a burial or cremation. Usually, the attending physician, hospice nurse, coroner, or funeral home fill out the paperwork to register a death - a notification of death.

Within 24 hours of taking custody of the body, the notification of death is given to the local health director in the county where the death occurred. The health director serves as the local registrar (GS 130A-94). The health director completes a death certificate which must be registered with the local register of deeds. From there, it must then be recorded with the NC Vital Records group (see below).

In North Carolina, since a family is allowed to bury their own dead, a family member may submit the appropriate paperwork. This must be done within 5 days of death. The attending physician, chief medical officer of the hospital or facility, or person conducting the autopsy must sign the paperwork within three days of death. This verifies that he or she:

  • had access to the medical history of the deceased;
  • has viewed the deceased at or after death; and
  • the death is due to natural causes

A cause of death must also be identified by that person. If the person was not receiving medical care when death occurred, the local medical examiner must be notified. The body may not be removed or buried or cremated until released by the medical examiner. If there is no county medical examiner, the Chief Medical Examiner must be notified.

 

A permit to transport, signed by the medical examiner, must be obtained within five days of death if the body is to be transported out of state.

North Carolina Vital Records within the NC Department of Health and Human Services (919-733-3526) is where copies of death certificates may be requested. There is a fee per copy. You may need up to ten for the purposes of establishing death for social security, insurance policies, etc. If a funeral home requests them, the charge should be included in the basic services fee. Find out how many copies they will request.

To request copies, you will need to know:

  • Full Name of Deceased
  • Date of Death
  • Place (City or County) of Death
  • Date of Birth
  • Requester's relationship to the Deceased

 

In North Carolina, there are two types of vital records: certified and non-certified. Certified copies of vital records are not available to everyone. North Carolina law NCGS 130A-93(c) specifies that certified copies of certificates are available only to the following people:

  • a person requesting a copy of his or her own vital records or that of the person's spouse, sibling, direct ancestor, direct descendant, stepparent, or stepchild
  • a person seeking information for a legal determination of personal or property rights or
  • an authorized agent, attorney, or legal representative of a person described in (1) or (2) above

Proof of identity and proof of eligibility are required. Uncertified copies of certificates are available to anyone who requests them, for a fee. They are not accepted as legal documents.

 

To view the legislation in its entirety, go to the North Carolina General Assembly website and type in the statute, as identified above or go directly to the chapter.

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