Massachusetts law about burial, cremation, and funerals

Laws, regulations, cases and web sources on burial, cremation, and funeral law.

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Issues to consider in preparing for disposition of decedents, Mass. Dept. of Public Health, Division of Community Sanitation.
Includes detailed information on death certificates, transportation, preparing the body, cremation, burial, green burial, burial at sea, and more, with links to applicable laws and regulations.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 114 Cemeteries and burials
The state's primary cemetery, burial and cremation law.

MGL c. 7, § 38A American Indian skeletal remains; preservation; excavation; analysis

MGL c. 7C, § 43 Procedure upon notice of site evaluation to determine presence of American Indian skeletal remains

MGL c. 9, § 26A State archeologist; duties; reservation of lands from sale; cooperation of governmental agencies

MGL c. 9, § 27C Projects; notice; adverse effect; review
Requirements to notify state archeologist if remains are found during public construction project.

MGL c. 38, § 6 Unmarked human remains; notice to office of chief medical examiner; reasonable attempt to identify; notification of commission on Indian affairs when remains suspected to be 100 years old or more

MGL c. 46, § 9 Death certificates; issuance; contents; declaration of death by nurse, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant

MGL c. 85, § 14A Funeral processions

MGL c. 117A, § 9 Final disposition of deceased persons; recovery of expenses from deceased's kindred
In some circumstances, the state will pay up to $1100 for the burial expenses of those who die without any money, but "may recover this expense from any legally liable family members."

MGL c. 190B, § 3-701 Time of accrual of duties and powers
Prior to appointment, a person named executor in a will may carry out written instructions of the decedent relating to the decedent's body, funeral and burial arrangements

MGL c. 272, § 40 Disturbance of assemblies; conduct of students on school grounds or in the course of school-related events
Penalty for disturbing an assembly (funeral).

MGL. c. 272, § 42 Disturbance of funerals
Whoever wilfully interrupts or by fast driving or otherwise in any way disturbs a funeral assembly or procession shall be punished as provided in section forty.

Massachusetts regulations

105 CMR 315 Cremation of bodies received from outside Massachusetts

106 CMR 705 Transitional Cash Assistance Programs (TCAP): related benefits

  • 106 CMR 705.700 - 705.710 Funeral and final disposition expenses

239 CMR Rules and regulations governing funeral directors and embalmers

239 CMR 3 Registration requirements; standards of business and professional practice

  • 239 CMR 3.09(c) Control over arrangements and disposition of human remains
    Follow the directions of the deceased person's surviving kin, in the following order of priority:
1. the surviving spouse of the deceased; 2. the surviving adult children of the deceased; 3. the surviving parent(s) of the deceased; 4. the surviving brother(s) or sister(s) of the deceased; 5. the guardian of the person of the deceased at the time of his or her death; 6. any other person authorized or obligated by law to dispose of the remains of the deceased.

505 CMR 1 Disclosure of autopsy reports

505 CMR 2 Release of unclaimed or unidentified bodies

505 CMR 4 Cremation fees

Federal regulations

16 CFR 453 Funeral industry practices. The "funeral rule"
This is the primary consumer protection law for funerals.

40 CFR 229.1 Burial at sea

Selected cases

Web sources

General Information

Arranging a funeral or cremation in Massachusetts, U.S. Funerals online.
Provides guidance on what decisions need to be made in the funeral arrangements of a loved one including finding a funeral home, green burials, cremation and flowers. 

Burial & cremation laws in Massachusetts,
Provides answers to common questions about burial and cremation.

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.

Burying mass murderers: the problem of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Huffington Post, May 2013.
Excellent overview of Mass. burial laws, and the challenges facing difficult situations. "If the family of Tamerlan Tsarnaev rejects cremation as an option, then it will likely find that Massachusetts law will provide little assistance in securing a burial place for him."

Caring for your own dead: Guidelines for burial or cremation without a funeral director, Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts. 
Highlights required forms upon death in Massachusetts. Extremely helpful information about the process, even if you don't plan to do it yourself. 

Funeral home directory,
Search for funeral home by municipality or zip code.

Shopping for funeral services, Federal Trade Commission.
Detailed guide on issues confronting consumers. Includes funeral planning, costs, a form to use in comparing costs, and consumer rights under the "funeral rule."

Veterans' guide to benefits: burial benefits, Mass. Secretary of State.
Explains eligibility for burial in state and federal veterans' cemeteries and the application procedure.

VIP electronic death registration system (EDRS).  Mass. Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.
All deaths occurring on September 1, 2014 onward must be registered through EDRS

What to do when human burials are accidentally uncovered: Know How #4, Mass. Historical Commission.
What you should do if you uncover bones, and the role of the state archaeologist.

Burial at Sea

Burial at sea, Environmental Protection Agency.
Contains guidance in how to conduct a burial at sea and reporting requirements.

A final resting place at sea: as cremations rise, ocean burials also gain, Boston Globe, January 20, 2011.
Explains the increasing number of burials at sea, and some options for those considering it. Note: You must be online in Massachusetts in order to access this link.

Burying the Poor

Abandoned bodies: Massachusetts' poor and unwanted are spending months waiting for burial,, May 2019.
Part 1 in a series "on what happens to Massachusetts' poor and unwanted when they die and the few people who take on the task of burying them."

Who buries Massachusetts' poor? State pays so little only a couple of funeral homes will take them,, May 2019.
Part 2 in a series "on what happens to Massachusetts' poor and unwanted when they die and the few people who take on the task of burying them."

Green Burial

Green burial Massachusetts
A Massachusetts nonprofit that educates and advocates for green burial practices in Massachusetts. This resource provides information on green burials and includes data on green burial policies in cemeteries across the state. 

Information for local boards of health on home burials and green burials, resource with guidance regarding what local boards of health should consider when handling requests for home and green burials.

Would you want to be composted after you die?, Jan 2023 
Mass. lawmaker proposes bill to allow human composting.

Print sources

Cause of action against undertaker for the mishandling of human remains, 35 COA 2d 495.

Consumer law, 4th ed. (Mass. Practice Series vol. 35 - 36A), 2021.  Funeral Services, section 30:40 - 30:49.

Damages in tort actions, Matthew Bender, loose-leaf. Vol. 1, Chapter 7, Mishandling of dead bodies.

Final rights: reclaiming the American way of death, Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson, Upper Access, 2011.

The law of human remains, Tanya Marsh, Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company, Inc., 2016.

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed (Mass. Practice Series vol. 18 – 18C), 2006 with supplement. Public Cemeteries, section 9.35; Cemeteries and Burial Grounds, section 19.16; Funeral Directors, section 19.17.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about burial, cremation, and funerals

Last updated: April 4, 2024

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