Home Funeral Requirements

Learn about home funeral requirements, includes what you need to know in order to honor and bury your loved one within legal guidelines as well as a list of helpful home funeral books.

Family and friends of Mari, age 45, who died of breast cancer, decorate her casket.

Family and friends of Mari, age 45, who died of breast cancer, decorate her casket.


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When planning a green funeral make sure you follow legal home funeral requirements.

Home Funeral Requirements

Even if you use a conventional funeral home and cemetery, be aware that embalming, expensive caskets and concrete vaults generally are not required by law. Cemeteries may set such requirements, and waive them if they choose. So, if you want a simpler burial, ask around. You may find a funeral home and cemetery that suits your needs.

If you are thinking about handling a funeral yourself, you should know that most states clearly allow families to care for their own dead, according to Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love. Only six states may limit families who want to take charge of the process: Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan (thanks to an uncooperative health department despite a law that says otherwise), Nebraska and New York. For more details, read Caring for the Dead, or contact Carlson at www.funerals.org. If you don't hire a funeral director, here are some things you should know:

Death Certificates. A death certificate stating the cause of death and signed by a doctor must be filed, usually in the county or district where death occurs, where a body is found, or where a body is removed from a public conveyance or vehicle. This must usually be accomplished before other permits are granted or before final disposition.

Embalming. No state requires routine embalming of all bodies. Refrigeration or dry ice can substitute for embalming in most instances. Special circumstances such as extended time between death and disposition can necessitate embalming under state law. Interstate transportation by a common carrier also may require it.

Burial permits. In some states, when burial will be outside the county or town where death occurred, you will need an additional permit to inter from the local registrar in that area. In many states, the top of the coffin must be at least 3 feet below the soil surface. A burial location should be 150 feet or more from a water supply and outside the utility or power line easements.

Moving a body. Never move a body without having a permit or medical permission in hand!

Cremation. A special permit-to-cremate may be needed; these are available from the local coroner or medical examiner, and a modest fee is usually charged.

Read more about green funerals: Planning a Green Funeral at Home.