what are the United States laws concerning cremation?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 19, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Hello, I live in Texas. My friend had a friend who passed away in Houston. She is the executor for his estate. The plan is to have her friend's body cremated. The deceased had a brother who is refusing to do anything including giving permission to have his poor deceased brother cremated. My friend -I will call her Annie - is in a quandry. She has asked several funeral homes in Houston area and they are all saying that only a relative can have a body cremated according to "federal law". I have looked up Texas laws and the laws here say "person responsible" for the deceased - and do NOT specify relative. My question, therefore, is what are the United States laws regarding cremation. I have looked and looked and can find nothing. Fortunately in my own case, my elderly relative has a pre-paid funeral plan. Thank you very much


Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

An anonymous caregiver asked... Hello, I live in Texas. My friend had a friend who passed away in Houston. She is the executor for his estate. The plan is to have her friend's body cremated. The deceased had a brother who is refusing to do anything including giving permission to have his poor deceased brother cremated. My friend -I will call her Annie - is in a quandry. She has asked several funeral homes in Houston area and they are all saying that only a relative can have a body cremated according to "federal law". I have looked up Texas laws and the laws here say "person responsible" for the deceased - and do NOT specify relative. My question, therefore, is what are the United States laws regarding cremation. I have looked and looked and can find nothing. Fortunately in my own case, my elderly relative has a pre-paid funeral plan. Thank you very much

The most extensive federal law controlling the funeral business is the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule. One of its prime focuses has been to crack down on abuses in prepaid funeral plans, which may be of interest to you. The FTC publishes a pamphlet explaining it here: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro26.shtm.

But beyond that, states are mostly free to pass their own rules and regulations about the specifics of the funeral business"”and they do. Texas law specifies a duty to honor the wishes of the deceased after death, so if Annie's friend made those wishes clear, preferably in writing, they would control. Texas law also allows and encourages people to name an agent to control disposition of remains, so if Annie was by chance named her friend's agent, she is authorized to direct the cremation.

Another Texas law specifies the hierarchy of just who is considered a "person responsible" for directing the final disposition. Specifically, it notes: "The following persons, in the priority listed, have the right to control the disposition, including cremation, of the decedent's remains, shall inter the remains, and are liable for the reasonable cost of interment: (1) the person designated in a written instrument signed by the decedent; (2) the decedent's surviving spouse; (3) any one of the decedent's surviving adult children; (4) either one of the decedent's surviving parents; (5) any one of the decedent's surviving adult siblings; or (6) any adult person in the next degree of kinship in the order named by law to inherit the estate of the decedent."

You might urge Annie to contact the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) (www.funerals.org) for help. The FCA is a nonprofit group organized to protect consumers' rights, and gives advice and sometimes intervenes if those rights are being violated.