State Laws

Does State of Pennsylvania require burial vaults for burial?



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If the death was not from a contagious disease, no state law requires a casket or a vault. Most cemeteries on their own do require a vault, and most cemeteries dig the grave deeper than DOH regulations. There are numerous reasons for this. If the cemetery uses heavy machinery to dig graves or cut grass, etc., a vault will keep the machinery from damaging the remains. Also as time passes, the remains and wooden coffins disintegrate, which will cause the ground above the grave to sink such that there will be a large depression in the ground. Also, by reason of our geographic location, the ground in Pa. freezes and unfreezes several times throughout the winter season. This tends to push anything in the ground up towards the ground surface. A vault will also protect the remains from scavenging animals. Depending on soil conditions and flood plains the remains could also work their way to surface. During the 1972 hurricane and resulting floods in Pa., coffins floated down the Susquehanna River. A vault tends to hold everything in place. In the case of a body not dead of a contagious disease, burial is to occur within 24 hours of death. Otherwise the body must be embalmed or placed in a hermetically sealed container. [28 Pa. Code 1.23(a).] The Pa. Department of State's Board of Funeral Directors has a similar regulation (funeral directors may also use refrigeration under strict legal standards for bodies not disposed of within 24 hours of death). [49 Pa. Code 13.201(6).]