For those who are involved in caring for family members or other loved ones in Colorado, the final act of caregiving may be taking care of arrangements after your loved one dies. Every state has laws affecting what happens to a body after death. Here are answers to commonly asked questions regarding post-death matters in Colorado. This may be helpful after a death occurs as well as in doing any pre-planning before that happens. (Acknowledgement: In addition to sources identified within this article, appreciation also goes to nolo.com [legal researchers and publishers] for portions of the information presented here.)
Who can order a death certificate in Colorado?
In Colorado, you can obtain a death certificate if you are related to the deceased person or if you can show that you have a legal interest in the death certificate. You may be able to obtain the death certificate if you are related to the deceased person as:
- a current or former spouse or a sibling
- parent, stepparent, grandparent or great grandparent
- child, step-child, grandchild or great grandchild
- aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin, or in-law
- legal representative of the deceased person or estate
- power of attorney for the deceased person
- probate researcher, creditor, or employer
- beneficiary of the deceased person, or
- representative of an insurance company where the deceased person had an account.
For a complete list of who can order certificates and the documentation you must provide, see the “Table of Eligibility for Receipt of Death Certificate” on the website of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE website).
How do you get a death certificate in Colorado?
A death must be registered with the local or state vital records office within five days and before the body is buried or cremated. A death certificate can be prepared and filed by a funeral home, crematory, or other person in charge of the deceased person’s remains. If a physician was handling the illness or condition that caused the death, he or she completes the medical certification section of the death certificate within 48 hours after the death. If an inquiry into the death is necessary, the coroner determines the cause of death and completes the medical certification. You may need to obtain several certified copies of a death certificate if you are the one wrapping up the deceased’s affairs in order to claim property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person, including life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable-on-death accounts, veterans’ benefits, and many 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. You can download a mail-in order form or order death certificates online at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Look for “Public Records” under the “Public Information” tab. You will have to provide a valid form of identification, such as a government issued photo ID, at the time you order the death certificate.
Is embalming legally required in Colorado?
In Colorado, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated only if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours or if the body will be transported out of state by common carrier (e.g., by plane or train). If the latter applies, the body must be embalmed or shipped in a hermetically sealed container.
Is a casket required in Colorado, for either burial or cremation? Do you have to buy it from the funeral home?
Burial does not legally require a casket. But an individual cemetery may have rules requiring a certain type of container. For cremation, no casket is required; in fact, 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. Federal law also requires funeral homes to accept caskets consumers have purchased elsewhere and cannot impose a “casket handling fee.”
Where can bodies be buried or ashes be stored or scattered in Colorado?
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but there are no state laws in Colorado that prohibit burial on private property. Private property burials must be recorded with the county clerk within 30 days.
Local governments may have additional rules governing private burials. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check county and city zoning rules.
In Colorado, ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. As for scattering, some cemeteries provide gardens for scattering, and you are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. Before scattering on any public land, check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. If you’re thinking of scattering on federal land (e.g., national park, national monument, etc.), you should request permission from whatever agency oversees the site and if it’s granted, you should conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. The website of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park offers a downloadable application for a permit to scatter ashes in the park, along with guidance on how to do it.
For scattering at sea, the federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the ashes container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. You must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea. Finally, federal aviation laws prohibit dropping objects from the air that might harm people or property but does not consider cremains to be hazardous material. Just do not drop the ashes container from the air.
Is alkaline hydrolysis available in Colorado?
Alkaline hydrolysis, the chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone, was legalized in Colorado in 2011. This chemical process uses less energy and releases no matter into the atmosphere, making it a greener alternative to flame-based cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis uses a solution of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide to reduce a body to components of liquid and bone. Bone fragments are retained so they can be dried and turned into a substance similar to cremated ashes, which can be scattered, buried, or disposed in any way cremated ashes are handled.
The liquid byproduct of alkaline hydrolysis is reportedly a nontoxic solution of amino acids, peptides, sugars, and soap that can be disposed of in an environmentally safe way. One description likens hydrolysis to the chemical decomposition that happens when a body is buried, except AH takes just a few hours, depending on the temperature and pressure in the hydrolysis chamber, instead of months or years.
Is human composting an option in Colorado?
Yes. Human composting became legal in May of 2021, with the first use of it happening about 10 months later. This process converts human bodies into soil and is also known as “natural reduction,” according to The Natural Funeral, a Colorado funeral services provider. The Colorado Burial Preserve, about 40 miles south of Colorado Springs, is said to be the first “dedicated green cemetery” in the state. Advocates of human composting had called for this option as a more environmentally friendly way to be laid to rest because the process has “no appreciable carbon emissions or release of toxic fumes in contrast to flame cremation” and does not “take up any real estate as a conventional burial might,” according to Natural Funeral. The law does prohibit the soil of multiple people to be combined without their prior permission, and the soil cannot be sold or used to grow food for human consumption. It can be used for conservation efforts. The Denver Post reported in the fall of 2022 that a 50,000-square-foot warehouse building in Montbello was being transformed into a composting facility and would have places where families can hold ceremonies for their loved ones.
What do funerals cost in Colorado?
Not surprisingly, this varies. Depending which source you check, you can find costs ranging from a low of a few hundred dollars for a “direct cremation” to highs of several thousand dollars for traditional full-service funerals (as much as $20,000 for unusually high-end arrangements). Costs also vary by location. One online site shows an average cost for a Boulder funeral at close to $7,400 compared to a similar funeral in Pueblo costing about $5,200. Here are four common “tiers” of traditional/cremation funerals and what they include, ranked from more costly to less:
Traditional Full-Service Burial includes funeral home basic service fee, embalming and care of body, a visitation or wake prior to the funeral, a service at either church or funeral home chapel, a funeral procession to the grave site and a committal service prior to burial.
Full-Service Cremation includes a visitation or wake prior to the funeral, a service at either church or funeral home chapel and basic cremation services, which include removal of deceased from the place of death, transfer to the crematory, and cremation services. Unless an urn has been purchased separately, the ashes are generally returned to the family in a cardboard box.
Affordable Burial, sometimes known as Immediate or Direct Burial, is the burial of a body without embalming, viewing or services. It includes basic services fees and transportation of the body from the place of death to the cemetery.
Direct Cremation includes removal of the deceased from the place of death, transfer to the crematory, and cremation services. Unless an urn has been purchased separately, the ashes are generally returned to the family in a cardboard box.
Alkaline Hydrolysis costs can reportedly vary from $900 to $2,500 or more. At least one provider in Colorado set his fee at the $2,500 mark. Due to its more recent availability as an option, costs for Human Composting appear to still be finding a trend, but online information generally shows it as ranging from about $5,000 to $8,000. It’s key to note that, as with cremation, neither of these choices involves the expense of a casket, which can often be the single most expensive line item in funeral costs.
Coloradans have rights under the FTC Rule
The “Funeral Rule” enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements after a death occurs or in advance. The Rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes, and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use. (The Rule does not apply to separate sellers such as casket and monument dealers.)
Michelle Singletary, a financial issues columnist for the Washington Post, cautioned readers in a 2023 op-ed to make note of the Federal Rule when a death occurs because “there are unethical death care providers just waiting to prey on the bereaved” by withholding price lists, overcharging for caskets, and lying about what services and products are required by law.
Under the Federal Rule, you have the right to:
- Buy only the funeral arrangements you want. This includes the right to separately buy goods and services such as caskets and embalming, so you do not have to accept a package that may include items you do not want.
- Get price information on the telephone. Funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address, or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.
- Get a written, itemized price list when you visit a funeral home. The funeral home must give you a General Price List (GPL) that is yours to keep. It lists all the items and services the home offers, and the cost of each one.
- See a written casket price list before you see the actual caskets. Sometimes, detailed casket price information is included on the funeral home’s GPL. More often, though, it’s provided on a separate casket price list. Get the price information before you see the caskets, so that you can ask about lower-priced products that may not be on display.
- See a written outer burial container price list. Outer burial containers are not required by law anywhere in the U.S., but many cemeteries require them to prevent the grave from caving in. If the funeral home sells containers, but doesn’t list their prices on the GPL, you have the right to look at a separate container price list before you see the containers. If you don’t see the lower-priced containers listed, ask about them.
- Receive a written statement after you decide what you want, and before you pay. It should show exactly what you are buying and the cost of each item. The funeral home must give you a statement listing every good and service you have selected, the price of each, and the total cost immediately after you make the arrangements.
- Get an explanation in the written statement from the funeral home that describes any legal cemetery or crematory requirement that requires you to buy any funeral goods or services.
- Use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation. No state or local law requires the use of a casket for cremation. A funeral home that offers cremations must tell you that alternative containers are available, and must make them available. They might be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.
- Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere. The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it. The funeral home cannot require you to be there when the casket or urn is delivered to them.
- Make funeral arrangements without embalming. Specifics for Colorado were mentioned earlier in this article.
Federal and Colorado organ and tissue donation laws
For anyone choosing to donate organs or tissues, this process is regulated by both federal and state law. The National Organ Transplant Law is intended to address the nation’s shortage of organ donations and improve the organ matching and placement process. The law:
· places strict requirements on organizations that obtain organs meant for human transplant;
· provides for the establishment and operation of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which is designed to match and equitably distribute donated organs to individuals in need; and
· prohibits buying or selling human organs for human transplant.
The Colorado Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act also seeks to increase the supply of donated organs for human transplant. It applies to the donation of all or part of a deceased human body for the purpose of transplantation, therapy, research, or education. The law outlines who may donate a deceased human body and how the donation may be made. The law also specifies that these donations must be made to:
· a hospital; accredited medical school, dental school, college, or university; organ procurement
organization; or other appropriate person, for research or education;
· an individual designated by the person making the gift if the individual is the recipient of the
body part; or
· an eye bank or tissue bank.
The law prohibits the sale and purchase of human body parts for transplantation, in line with federal
law. However, there may be a reasonable amount charged for the removal, processing, preservation, quality control, storage, transportation, implantation, or disposal of a part.
What if you wish to donate your body to science in Colorado?
The Colorado State Anatomical Board located at the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado was created as a state agency in 1927 for the purpose of receiving donated bodies to assist in medical education and research. “Human anatomy is the basis of all medical knowledge, and can only be learned by anatomical study,” the Board states. “That is why body donation plays a pivotal role in educating our future health care professionals. [It is] also helpful to researchers studying new surgical or regenerative techniques to better serve patients.” The Board says there is a high demand for body donation, and its personnel work only with trusted institutions “where your gift will be accepted with gratitude and treated respectfully.” If interested in leaving your body to science, check these Frequently Asked Questions. To arrange a donation, please fill out the Board’s anatomical donation form. You can contact the Board by phone at (303) 724-2410 or visit their website at https://medschool.cuanschutz.edu/state-anatomical-board.
Colorado oversight of non-transplant tissue banks
Non-transplant tissue banks, also known as body brokers, are businesses that solicit, secure, collect,
transport, store, and sell dead human bodies and body parts, often for profit. Businesses in this industry engage in extensive advertising and often offer economic incentives, such as free cremation services, to donors and their families in return for body donations. The law allows these banks to operate with very little regulatory oversight. Such banks can, for example, sell bodies and body parts and do not have strict requirements for care of a donated body.
The Colorado legislature has passed measures designed to curb abuses in this area. A 2018 act titled Human Remains Disposition Sale Business prohibits a person from owning a direct or indirect interest in a funeral home or crematory while simultaneously owning a direct or indirect interest in a non-transplant tissue bank.The bill also requires that non-transplant tissue banks register with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), maintain adequate records of transactions, and disclose to the donor or donor’s representative of how the remains may be distributed and that the tissue bank will be compensated. Also required is compliance with standards of practice, such as handling remains in a safe and sanitary manner. In 2020 an act titled Offenses Committed Against a Deceased Human Body increased criminal penalty for abusing a deceased human body.
Financial help for Colorado funerals
The Colorado Office of Economic Security offers a Burial Assistance Program that provides payments to funeral/cremation service providers to help low-income Coloradans. Benefits are for “reasonable and necessary costs,” and the maximum 2022 burial grant as of 2022 is $1500.
To be eligible for this financial aid, a person must have been receiving public assistance and/or medical assistance at the time of death. This “public assistance” must have been through Colorado Works, Medicaid, and/or Adult Financial (AF) programs such as Old Age Pension, Aid to the Needy Disabled State Only (AND-SO), or Colorado Supplement (AND-CS). The total cost of the burial or cremation services cannot exceed $2500. The deceased person’s assets and assistance from the family members are considered when determining eligibility. Ant payments are made directly to the provider(s) of the service. Eligibility is determined by each county.
Related Colorado rules and regs re: funerals, cremation, organ donation
The Colorado Mortuary Service Code sets out various registration, training, record-keeping, and reporting requirements for professionals engaged in specific functions performed with funerals and cremations. If interested, you can review these at https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/laws_concerning_funeral_homes_crematories_and_organ_and_tissue_donations_interested_persons_memo.pdf. Some consumers may wish to verify that the persons or businesses they are dealing with meet the various requirements, including length of experience of those working in the professions.
Funeral home and crematory registration. In Colorado, funeral homes and crematories must be
registered with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). The businesses must
follow a wide range of requirements, including:
Record keeping. Funeral homes are required to retain all documents and records concerning the final disposition of human remains for at least seven years after the disposition. Crematories are required
to maintain a permanent record of each cremation occurring at the facility for at least five years. Both types of facilities are responsible for identifying and tracking human remains from the time they take custody of human remains until the remains are properly released.
Body handling. Funeral homes and crematories must embalm, refrigerate, cremate, bury, or entomb human remains within 24 hours after taking custody of the remains. These establishments must maintain appropriate sanitary conditions, and human remains must be transported in a safe and sanitary way. Crematories must not cremate the human remains of more than one person at the same time or commingle multiple cremains unless proper authorization has been received.
Disciplinary actions. Individuals found to be in violation of Colorado’s Mortuary Service Code can potentially be fined and jailed. DORA may also take administrative action against a registered funeral home or crematory that is found to be in violation. According to DORA, at least six funeral homes or crematories have had their registration revoked, suspended, or surrendered, sometimes in high-profile cases.