Just as every life is different, so is every death. You may decide that having a service or celebration in the comfort and familiarity of your own home is the most fitting option for you. Therefore, SevenPonds has developed this article to help you in the home funeral planning process.
What is a home funeral? What do home funerals require? What are typical legal and logistical considerations? How can you have a home funeral for your recently deceased loved one in your state? Read on for answers. If you are preplanning for either yourself or a terminally ill relative or friend, please see Preplanning a Home Funeral.
Things to Know:
- A home funeral, sometimes called a family-directed funeral or home-based funeral, allows for some or all after-death care to be conducted by friends or family.
- Home funerals can save families thousands of dollars by bypassing potentially costly funeral home-arranged services.
- In most states, it is legal to keep the deceased at home until transport for burial or cremation.
- Usually, you are not required to use a funeral provider. Some cremation providers will deal directly with the family.
- In most cases after an expected death, such as a terminal illness, friends and family can sit with the body for a period of time before calling a funeral provider to remove the body.
- A home funeral allows more time for visiting, viewing, grieving, and closure.
- You can make a coffin, purchase a coffin directly from a manufacturer or retailer, buy a cardboard box, or use a simple body shroud if you chose rural burial or green burial.
- If you plan to service the body yourself at home, and have passed all legal requirements to do so, you must still contact the authorities yourself after the death, so that a death certificate may be filed.
What is a home funeral?
If you die in a hospital, your body is taken to a morgue and then to a funeral provider. Can you do this from a hospital? If you die at home, typically a funeral service provider removes your body. A small and growing number of North American families have chosen to obtain the after-death documents themselves and service the body at home themselves until the time of burial or cremation. Friends or family prepare the body, notify the authorities, and complete some or all of the after-death paperwork. In some cases, friends or family may also transport the body for cremation or burial. This is a home funeral, a personal, private ceremony conducted in the comfort and familiarity of the home.
Is a home funeral always a good choice?
Of course, a home funeral is not practical for everyone. A home funeral requires significant preparation and education: You will need to educate yourself on the laws of your state, the hygienic and basic preservative procedures of caring for the dead such as washing, laying out, diapering the body, and cooling it with ice or frozen gel packs. You will have to prepare and transport the deceased and complete the necessary paperwork, such as the death certificate and the burial transit permit for transporting the body to the funeral. You may well have to employ the efforts of a number of family and friends. Home funerals can be therapeutic, cleansing experiences, where they are legal, but it will take effort on your part; a home funeral should be planned well in advance. You may wish to speak to a home funeral consultant in your area, whom you may find through the Home Funeral Directory, or reference this useful study guide by Undertaken With Love.
Furthermore, if there is any question as to cause of death, the body will usually need to be taken to the local coroner to have an autopsy performed. In these cases, home funerals are usually not the best option.
Is a home funeral legal in my state?
After-death care laws vary considerably by state. In most states, a family member or designated agent can act in lieu of a funeral director and legally keep the deceased at home until transport for burial or cremation. In some states, the designated agent must hold a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Currently, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, and Utah have laws making the home funeral process difficult without the involvement of a funeral director. In these states, for example, you may have to pay a funeral director to obtain burial transit permits and other after-death documents. Some states require a report of death in addition to a death certificate. In some states, a body can be moved following the home funeral only with medical permission; in other states, a disposition permit and a burial transit permit are required. Keep that in mind as you preplan a home funeral; it's very important to know the laws of your state. These laws are often complex, and sometimes even contradictory. Be prepared to defend your decision. We recommend contacting a home funeral consultant near you through the Home Funeral Directory. You can also reference the Funeral Consumer Alliance's page on “Caring For Your Own Dead.”
Why choose a home funeral?
In a home funeral, friends and family work together to provide a more personalized, and usually more inexpensive, after-death experience than that provided by a funeral home. The deceased's life is celebrated where he or she called home. A home funeral gives the deceased's family and friends more time with the departed, which may help in the often difficult, highly intimate grieving process. Here are some further benefits of home funerals:
- Home funerals are a more loving way to say goodbye. A home funeral allows more time for closure; family and friends can gather for two or more days to prepare, memorialize, celebrate, grieve, and finally transport the body.
- Home funerals give you control over decisions. Without preplanning, the home funeral may be rushed, but it will be more personalized than the funeral or memorial service conducted away from home by a funeral director or service provider. Arrangements for keeping the body and/or transporting the body for cremation or burial may be challenging. However, if you prefer this amount of involvement, or if you wish to oversee the preparation of the body, then a home funeral could be the right choice for you. For more information, see Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service.
- Home funerals save money. By circumventing the potentially costly accoutrements of funeral home-arranged services, families can save thousands of dollars in what they might feel are unnecessary products and services.
- Home funerals can facilitate bonding, as friends and family gather and cooperate in conducting the preparations and the event, supporting one another.
- Home funerals reinforce the cycle of life. Surrounding the bereaved in the everyday life of the deceased can help to highlight this person's true nature, their accomplishments, and their loved ones' hopes.
- Home funerals promote healing and closure. A home funeral provides a comfortable place to discuss life and death, to express grief and loss.
- Home funerals return death care to the traditional and natural. Prior to the late 19th century, North American families typically prepared deceased loved ones' bodies in the home, held services in the home, and transported the body from the home. Keeping the deceased at home was a natural part of the cycle of life.
To plan a home funeral:
- Investigate the laws governing home funerals in your state right away. Start at the state level to find out who can attain a death certificate and what transport documents and other after-death documents are required. Find out where and how to attain the required forms, such as your local health department. You may be told that you're required to use a funeral home, even if no laws explicitly say so. If that happens, hold firm. Insist on facts rather than opinions. For more information, contact a home funeral consultant or home funeral guide listed in the Home Funeral Directory. Or, purchase the chapter of Joshua Slocum's book, Final Rights, pertaining to the specific laws of your state.
- Educate yourself on caring for the dead. Learn what you'll need to do and what supplies you'll need to collect, in order to wash, lay out, adorn, diaper, and cool your loved one's remains. For more information on the specific tasks and supplies needed, you can reference this highly comprehensive study guide prepared by Undertaken With Love.
- If you choose cremation, identify a crematorium willing to deal directly with the family. Although many crematoriums are owned by funeral homes, some crematoriums are independently owned. Some crematoriums provide cremation services directly to the family; others will only deal with a funeral director. If you choose a home funeral followed by cremation, it may be beneficial to find a crematorium willing to deal directly with the family or designated agent.
- Learn about ecologically harmonious crematoriums, green burial and green cemeteries. Green burials are a highly elegant, cleansing, and caring way to say goodbye to a loved one. Furthermore, they are far less environmentally harmful than traditional burials. For more information, see Planning for Green Burial.
Are there different kinds of home funerals?
Yes. Even if someone did not die at home or did not plan to have a home funeral, family or a designated friend can still take charge of arrangements. One variation on the home funeral is the simplified funeral, which may include completing the paperwork required to get the death certificate and necessary transport permits. Another variation on the home funeral is the partial home funeral, which may include caring for the body, celebrating with the deceased at home, but using a funeral director to complete end-of-life paperwork and to transport the body for cremation or burial. See Preplanning a Funeral or Memorial Service for more information.
For more information:
A Family Undertaking: POV. A film by Elizabeth Westrate (2003).
Available for rental or video streaming from Netflix.
Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love
by Lisa Carlson
Upper Access, 1997
Funeral Consumers Alliance Home Funerals Slide Show from Donna Belk
“Funeral Regulations in North America: State by State and Province by Province”
“The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral” by Max Alexander
Crossings: Caring for Your Own at Death