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Who Can Authorize a Cremation?

March 1, 2018

Final disposition of a body is an important and personal decision, and cremation continues to grow in popularity. Before a cremation can take place, a cremation authorization form must be signed. But who can sign a cremation authorization? The answer depends on what state you live in, but typically it would be the next of kin starting with yourself prior to death or the legal next of kin after death.

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Due to the finality of the decision, state laws require written authorization to proceed with cremation. The surviving spouse would typically be the one to authorize the cremation.  If the deceased is not married, but has children, one or all the surviving children – depending on the law in your state – would have to authorize the cremation. Some states have a self-authorization form that is completed during a prearrangement. Once that form is signed, the document is kept on file at the funeral home and used to authorize the cremation when the death occurs. Usually there is a 24-hour waiting period before the deceased can be cremated, but in some states cremation laws require 48 hours between the death and the cremation.

In Massachusetts, the “Order for Cremation or Interment” form is filled out by the funeral home, cemetery, or crematory staff and signed by the next of kin requesting cremation. Either the consent of the surviving spouse, or, if there is none, of all adult children is generally required for a cremation in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts regulations state that if a pre-need contract is in force, then the funeral director shall obey it, including cremation. Without a pre-need agreement, the control of the disposition of the deceased goes along the line of next-of-kin.

According to Mass.gov: “Cremation requires an additional certificate from the medical examiner stating that they have viewed the body and that no further examination or judicial inquiry concerning the same is necessary. Such authorization is for the protection of evidence relating to the deceased, because once a body is cremated, all evidence from the body of possible crime is destroyed. Some crematories will hold a body under refrigeration for all or part of this period, provided they have room. The crematory will arrange for the medical examiner to view the body and provide certification for the cremation. Unless the death has been attributed to a communicable disease, cremation cannot occur until 48 hours after death.

Crematories must follow a strict code of regulations to ensure that dispositions are ethically managed.  Most states require that only one body be cremated at once, and that all cremated remains must be cleared from the cremation chamber before another cremation can begin. Mass.gov states: “Cremation must be carried out in a facility with by-laws and regulations approved by the Department of Public Health…and an air pollution control permit issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection…There are no restrictions on the disposition of ashes once cremation has occurred.”

The decision to choose cremation, which is more and more common these days, does not mean that you or your family cannot have a funeral service as well. In fact, cremation allows for even more choices than ever before. Some families choose to have the cremation after the visitation and funeral service in order to have the body present for services. Some families chose to have the cremation first, also called direct cremation, followed by memorial services either without the body present or with the ashes present. If you have questions, your funeral director can help you and your family make the decisions that fit the needs for all involved.

To discuss cremation authorization or pre-planning with one of our knowledgeable funeral directors, please contact us at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).

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