What’s a Certificate of Cremation?


Many different tasks go into planning a burial or cremation. No matter the type of final resting place you choose, there are documents you’ll need to prepare to ensure your loved one’s affairs are taken care of. While many people consider cremation to be the more straightforward option, it still has its own special documents. 

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A cremation certificate is a document that has key information about the deceased and their cremation. This is often needed to prove someone’s death, like in the case of seeking life insurance benefits or access to accounts. 

The more you understand these documents, the better equipped you’ll be to handle any next steps after the loss of your loved one. In this guide, we’ll explain what a certificate of cremation is and why you need one. 

Certificate of Cremation Defined

In legal terms, a certificate of cremation is a document validating that an individual has been cremated. Like a death certificate, it’s a legal document with information about the deceased and their final resting place. This is also sometimes called a certificate of disposition of remains or a cremation permit. 

The cremation certificate also includes the name of the deceased, an identification number from the crematorium, the date of the cremation, contact information from the crematorium, and the signature of a qualified crematorium staff member. This information is necessary not only for accurate records, but it could be used to prove someone’s death legally. 

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Difference between a death certificate and a certificate of cremation

There’s a lot of confusion between death certificates and cremation certificates. Because they both relate to the death and final resting place, it’s easy to see why these terms are often used interchangeably. In reality, they refer to different legal documents. 

What is a death certificate? This is an official legal document that serves as proof that someone died. It’s used to access loved ones’ accounts, insurance, benefits, and so on. It’s also used as a form of recordkeeping on a national and local level. 

On the other hand, a certificate of cremation is a document proving someone was cremated. It has information about the crematorium and who authorized the cremation. However, it doesn’t include details you’d find on the death certificate like time of death, cause of death, and so on.

For people

For people, both the death certificate and the certificate of cremation are necessary. The death certificate is used to confirm someone’s death, typically for legal or financial purposes. The cremation certificate, while less frequently used, is an important document to hold onto just in case information about the cremation is ever needed.

For pets

Pets don’t always receive a death certificate or a cremation certificate unless you specifically request one. If you’d like a copy for your records, talk to your vet. They can provide any documentation you need after your pet’s death as well as any additional cremation documents.

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What Do You Need a Certificate of Cremation For?

The certificate of cremation isn’t as necessary as a death certificate. While it’s a valid legal document, it’s likely not something you’ll need in the future. That being said, it’s still important to hold onto even after the cremation. 

In many places, a cremation permit is needed prior to the cremation taking place. This is signed by an authorized person at the crematorium, and it ensures all the legal needs are met before the body is cremated. 

After the cremation, the most important document is the death certificate. This is what providers ask for when accessing accounts, benefits, insurance, and so on. That being said, some providers might request additional documentation proving someone’s death. In this case, a certificate of cremation might be valuable. 

Outside of legal requirements, a certificate of cremation is a powerful form of recordkeeping. In years past, it wasn’t always clear how people were laid to rest. This has led to many ancestry and genealogy challenges, and many families are left struggling to fill in the gaps in their stories. Accurate record-keeping through documents such as the cremation certificate is key to keeping these legacies alive. 

What’s Included on a Certificate of Cremation?

The certificate of cremation includes information you won’t find on the death certificate. While the death certificate focuses on circumstances and facts around the cause of death, the certificate of cremation has details about the cremation such as:

  • Information about the deceased
  • Name of crematorium
  • Address and phone number of the crematorium
  • Cremation authorization signature
  • Date of cremation
  • Next-of-kin (optional)

Some crematoriums might include more information depending on their specific practices. There is a lot of freedom for crematoriums to create their own certificates as long as they adhere to state and federal guidelines. 

How Do You Get a Certificate of Cremation?

If you’re seeking a certificate of cremation for a loved one, your funeral home or crematorium is your best source of information. These are the providers who will give these to you when they’re available. If you need any additional supporting documents for insurance or benefit purposes, they should be able to provide you with what you need. 

On the other hand, if you’re seeking a certificate of cremation for someone who passed a long time ago, this could be more challenging. In decades past, many communities and families didn’t keep records clearly. In addition, cremation certificates are a relatively new concept. 

That being said, you can still seek out a certificate of cremation or a death certificate by visiting your county’s office of vital records. You can contact them via phone or in-person to discuss what you’re looking for, and the records office typically will work with you to find it. 

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How Long Should You Keep a Cremation Certificate?

If you receive a cremation certificate for a loved one, how long should you hold onto this important document? It’s not always clear how long to keep documents, especially after a loved one dies. 

In the case of a cremation certificate, it’s a good idea to keep this record for at least 7 years. This allows enough time for you and other family members to settle your loved one’s final affairs, access benefits, and so on. That being said, you’ll still want to include these documents or copies in your family’s genealogy records. 

An alternative to keeping these documents in person somewhere in your home is to secure them safely online. You can upload them to your free, secure Cake end-of-life planning account, a digital cloud folder, or anywhere that makes sense for your family. 

The Role of Recordkeeping After Death

The history of recordkeeping in the United States isn’t as straightforward as many think. While vital records are considered incredibly important today, this wasn’t always the case. Most early records from before 1800 are incomplete, lost, or don’t exist at all. 

Prior to recording deaths, it was important for counties and local communities to keep track of marriages. Wedding records were the earliest types of documents stored within community record offices. This slowly began to include the recording of births and deaths towards the mid-1800s. 

Nowadays, each local county is tasked with recordkeeping for residents. This isn’t usually done on a federal or even state level. Today, it’s important for births, weddings, and deaths to be recorded at or close to the time of the event. This means we now have clear records for all in recent times, though community resources vary by location. 

The certificate of cremation (or burial) is an important part of modern U.S. vital recordkeeping. Not only can you keep your own records, but you can help bridge the gap between today and the future. For those looking back on the past, these documents share details into our way of life and death. 

Understanding Cremation and Documentation

The administrative burden of end-of-life arrangements is often understated and misunderstood. This is one of the biggest surprises after losing a loved one. However, completing these tasks and taking care of your loved one’s legal documents is a powerful act of kindness. These small details are a part of their legacy, and this shapes how they’ll be remembered. 

While choosing cremation is relatively more straightforward than a burial, there are still many documents to keep track of. The cremation certificate or cremation permit is something worth holding onto as part of your loved one’s documentation. The more you understand these documents and processes, the better equipped you’ll be to advocate for yourself and loved ones when they need it most.  

  1. “U.S. Vital Records Overview.” Family Search Genealogy. FamilySearch.org

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