Are Green Burials Legal in Nevada?

“Green burials” can be a great alternative to traditional burial but it is not always legal in Nevada.

By Matthew G. Pfau, attorney at Lawyers Plus.

There is a trend in mortuary services that is making significant strides in the last few years. This emerging trend is called green burials and after discovering how it works, many are left wondering how it might work for them and whether it is even legal in Southern Nevada.

What Is a Green Burial?

A “green” or “natural” burial is a burial process that allows the body to decompose naturally and organically. These burials include specific methods of body preparation and burial practices that are implemented in special grave sites that are set aside specifically for this type of grave. The process is free of chemicals and caskets (or shrouds) used to put the body into its final resting place are biodegradable.

What Makes a Green Burial a Good Alternative?

This type of burial option is gaining popularity among those planning for the inevitable because it is much cheaper than a traditional burial. It is also much more environmentally friendly than using coffins or cremation.

The average cost of a traditional funeral will cost anywhere from $6,000–$20,000 (or higher depending on how extravagant you get). The cost of the metal/wood casket, embalming and cemetery services are all what make the traditional process of burial so expensive. All of these expenses combined create a $15 billion dollar business in the U.S.

Environmental issues abound with traditional burials. For example, embalming fluid can contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. It is dangerous to be around and can be very toxic to the environment. About 4.8 million gallons of embalming fluid is buried each year. Additionally, metal caskets are not biodegradable and pollute the earth. It is hard to imagine that approximately 60,000 tons of steel is placed in the earth each year for burial purposes.

Are Green Burials Legal in Nevada?

To understand how to take advantage of green burials in Nevada, it is important to understand what Nevada law says you can and cannot do. Unfortunately, you cano’t just decide to plant Grandpa under a tree in your backyard just because it is “green.” Nevada, like all other states, has created a set of rules that regulates how and where a person can be buried. The reason for this is to attempt to protect public health and safety by preventing rogue burials around the state.

Nevada burial law states that burial can only be done in a dedicated cemetery. They only exception to this rule is for the use of a family cemetery that can only be approved if the family lives in a Nevada county that has fewer than 55,000 residents. Even then the site must be inspected by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health of the Department of Health and Human Services (NRS 451.067).

Additionally, Nevada has much more strict embalming regulations than in most other states. Embalming is the process whereby blood is drained from the body and it is replaced with chemicals designed to preserve the body without refrigeration. Nevada requires that a body be embalmed if it is determined necessary to “protect the public” as determined by the State Board of Health (NRS 451.065(2)). Further, the body must be embalmed if it has been held for at least 72 hours, no contact has been made with family members, or the facility holding the body “has no reason to believe” that the family would object to having the body embalmed (NRS 451.065(3)).

Given Nevada’s burial laws requiring green burials take place in cemeteries (in most cases) and embalming regulations, green burials are very difficult but not impossible. The keys is finding a “green cemetery” in Nevada that will allow you to bury a body using “green” methods. A “green cemetery” is also knows as an “eco-cemetery,” which allows both natural and traditional burials.

How to Make Sure You Get a Green Burial

If a green burial sounds like a good idea, you will need to let your family members know by using legal documentation. The two best methods of communicating your burial in a legally binding way is to put your wishes into a Power of Attorney for Healthcare or to use an official form called “Final Disposition Instructions.” Merely putting your wishes into your Will or Trust will not be enough.

By using a Power of Attorney for Healthcare or the Final Disposition Instructions, you will be able to designate an agent who will be responsible for taking care of your remains. The agent that you name will be legally bound to follow the instructions you’ve left in these legal documents so long as your wishes are not illegal. These types of preparations will not only assure that you get the type of burial that you desire but it will also save your loved ones significant amounts of heartache in trying to make these important decisions for you.

Zachariah B. ParryMatthew G. Pfau is a founding partner of the law firm, Lawyers Plus. His practice is dedicated to helping people achieve financial independence and self sufficiency. His primary areas of practice are estate planning, probate, and bankruptcy.

Matt is a member in good standing with the State Bar of Nevada and the California State Bar Association. Matt is admitted to practice before all District Courts in the State of Nevada, the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Nevada, the District Courts in the State of California, the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of California, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Matt can be reached at matt@lawyers-plus.com, 702-910-4300, or through his firm’s website at www.lawyers-plus.com.


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