Is Using a Funeral Home Legally Required for a Death?

For the majority of Americans, funeral expenses can be financially devastating. Though it’s not the most frequent practice, some people opt for a home funeral instead of hiring a funeral home. Organizing a home funeral is a serious but cost-effective undertaking.

Laws Vary By State

There are no laws that require residents to hire a funeral home when a death occurs in all but nine states. Those nine states are Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York, which legally require some form of involvement from a funeral director. Those states aside, there is no legal obligation to hire a funeral director or funeral home; however, state laws regulating home funerals vary. While hiring a funeral home is not required, many choose to use one due to the regulations needed to handle a dead body. Individuals who opt for home funerals must follow the same laws as a funeral home.

The Funeral Rule

The Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, states that people may purchase only the goods and services they want or need when making funeral arrangements. The Funeral Rule is detailed and complex, designed to protect the customer. It allows customers to compare prices from different funeral homes and requires that funeral directors offer pricing information over the phone. This law empowers customers not only when they choose to use a funeral home for a complete funeral service, but allows for those opting for a home funeral to purchase any individual goods or services they might want or need at home.

Home Funerals

Home funerals give survivors the freedom to make all arrangements and provide extra opportunities for visiting since the body is at home. When choosing a home funeral, survivors are responsible for the same tasks that a funeral home would routinely perform. These responsibilities may include the extensive undertaking that is washing, dressing, and laying the body out in a casket. The body needs to be kept cold and can remain this way for three days. In most states, embalming is not required unless final disposition will not occur within a state-specified amount of time.

Those who choose home funerals must file a death certificate with the proper authorities within the first few days after the death occurs. Only then can a burial or transit permit be issued, which is required to move the body to the burial site. The casket and cemetery plot options are coordinated and purchased separately.

In cases where a home funeral is preferred, some choose a home burial as well. While this is legal in many states, some states are less lenient, requiring that bodies are buried in established cemeteries. Depending on local zoning laws, it may be possible to establish a private cemetery on private land. State and local government officials provide legal information specific to the locality through their websites.

Having a home funeral is a substantial undertaking and can be stressful. It is vital for anyone who chooses a home funeral to remember that they can turn to a professional at any time if the task becomes overwhelming. A funeral home can partially assist with the funeral, taking on some responsibilities and striking the right balance with the survivor.

Cremation

While most states do not legally require hiring a funeral home when a death occurs, this applies to non-cremated burials only. If the decedent or their survivors opt for cremation, the law states that it must be performed by a professional. According to the Funeral Rule, customers do not have to purchase any other goods or services from the funeral home or crematory outside of the cremation.

Summary

Funeral homes are not the only available avenue when a death occurs. Though labor-intensive, home funerals can be cost-effective and give survivors more control over funeral arrangements. While the laws vary from state to state, most states have no laws requiring the involvement of a funeral home in arranging funeral and burial services. Those making funeral arrangements in most states can choose which funeral services they decide to purchase, if any at all.

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Kubloss, Inc. (dba EstateGrid) has placed the information on this website as a service to the general public. It is not intended as legal, financial, or health advice or as a substitute for the particularized advice of a qualified professional. It is provided as is without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non‐infringement.