Frequently asked questions: Funerals and cemeteries

Get answers to frequently asked questions about funeral directors, funeral establishments, cemeteries, cremation, and burial.

The information below is for both professionals in the funeral business and for consumers.

Funeral directors

Do I need to complete mortuary school to get a funeral director license?

No, you may either get an Associate of Arts in Mortuary Science degree or complete 2 years in an accredited college. For complete information about education requirements, visit professional development requirements. If you aren't sure you have completed the proper courses, send us a photocopy of your transcript for evaluation.

How many hours of professional development do I need?

5 hours per year, which must include at least 1 hour of OSHA/WISHA training. For more information, visit professional development requirements.

As a professional development provider, how can I get approval for a course or seminar I'm offering?

We no longer pre-approve professional development courses and seminars. Finding appropriate professional development is each licensee's responsibility.

Does the Department of Licensing maintain a list of funeral homes looking for new employees?

No, many funeral homes will contact the Washington State Funeral Directors Association job referral service. You may phone them for details at 253-941-3370.

Funeral establishments and cemeteries

I am considering buying a cemetery plot and paying all the funeral costs now. Is this a good idea?

Prearranging your funeral, burial, or cremation, may ease the burden on your survivors in their time of grief. Funeral homes and cemeteries that sell prearrangement funeral service contracts are licensed to do so by the Department of Licensing. When you purchase a contract, they are required to deposit or invest a percentage of the money you pay in an insured account to protect your investment. In addition, we monitor the status of prearrangement trust funds.

A certain cemetery isn't being maintained properly. Can you help me make the cemetery water or mow the grass, cut the brush, pick up trash, etc.?

No, there is no state law or rule regarding the appropriate level of cemetery maintenance.

We planted a tree, bush, or flowers on the grave of our loved one. The cemetery removed it. Is this legal?

Yes, cemeteries are allowed by law to create their own rules for the operation of the cemetery, including rules regarding the planting of trees, bushes, and flowers. You should always check first with cemetery management before planting anything on a grave.

Cremations and cremated remains

Who can authorize cremations?

You can preauthorize cremation of your own remains with a written document you have signed (in the presence of a witness) directly with a funeral establishment. If you don't make prearrangements, a cremation may be authorized after your death by the following (in the order given):

  • The person you designate on your U.S. Department of Defense record of emergency data (DD Form 93), if you die during military service
  • Your designated agent, as directed through a written document signed and dated in the presence of a witness
  • Your spouse or state-registered domestic partner
  • The majority of your adult children
  • Your parents
  • The majority of your siblings
  • A court-appointed guardian

What if none of these family members can be located?

If the funeral home or cemetery is unable to locate the next of kin after making a good faith effort to find them, the most responsible person available may authorize a cremation or alternate disposition. See RCW 68.50.160.

Where can I scatter cremated remains in Washington?

You may scatter cremated remains on:

  • National parks, after receiving permission from the chief park ranger.
  • State trust uplands, after receiving permission from the appropriate Department of Natural Resources (DNR) region manager. View the map of DNR's regions and contact information for each region office. Note: Scattering by commercial scattering services is not permitted on DNR-managed lands.
  • Public navigable waters under state control, including Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, rivers, streams, and lakes.
  • The Pacific Ocean beyond the mean lower low water mark. These scatterings must follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s General Permit for Burial at Sea. This includes reporting the burial within 30 days to the Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10, 1200 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101.
  • Private land, with the permission of the land owner.

What is the proper way to scatter cremated remains?

Don't drop or throw the urn containing the cremated remains. Scatter only the contents. Pour the cremated remains out of the container and dispose of the container separately. There is usually a second identification label and/or a numbered metal disc inside the container. Keep this and dispose of it separately with the container.

Embalming and burial

Is embalming always required?

Embalming isn't required, but all human remains must be either embalmed or refrigerated upon receipt unless disposition of the body has been made. Remains can't be embalmed without authorization from a family member or representative of the deceased (see RCW 18.39.215). If refrigerated, human remains may only be removed from refrigeration for 24 hours or less to perform the activities listed in WAC 246-500-030(2)(e). Otherwise, the remains must remain in refrigeration until final disposition or transport.

Can I bury someone on private property?

Only if you create a cemetery on that property, following all the licensing requirements. It is a misdemeanor to bury any human remains anywhere except inside a cemetery or a building dedicated exclusively for religious purposes. This doesn't apply to scattering or burial of cremated remains (see RCW 68.50.130).

Can I bury a fetus on private property?

A fetus of less than 20 weeks gestation isn't considered by law to be human remains and may be buried on private property. However, a fetus of 20 weeks or more gestation is considered to be human remains and must be disposed of in a lawful manner according to state health laws.


What information needs to be on a Refrigeration Log?

All of the items below as listed in WAC 308-48-030:

  • Name of deceased
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Date placed into refrigeration and by whom
  • Date removed from refrigeration and by whom

What information needs to be on a Crematory Log?

All of the items below as listed in WAC 308-47-020:

  • ID tag number
  • Name of deceased
  • Date of death
  • Date human remains received
  • Type of cremation container
  • Date of burial transit permit
  • Date of cremation

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