How Long Can You Delay A Funeral? (Reasons & Considerations)


How Long Can You Delay A Funeral

When a death happens it is usually unexpected and sudden for the family and friends of the loved one. You may not be prepared for the funeral and have to make all the plans and arrangements up as you go.

So this beg’s the question of how long can you really delay a funeral? 

You can delay a funeral for as long as you can keep the body preserved. There’s no law or a set number of days or weeks that one has to have a funeral by, if at all. If you have access to a refrigeration unit or freezer you could postpone it indefinitely. Usually, though it is done within two weeks. 

Now that you know you don’t have to have the funeral right away, what are the reasons for this? What are some things to consider if you want to delay the funeral?

I’ve done a lot of research into this for myself and so I will help guide you in the article below and help you to make this process as easy as possible. 

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What is a normal timeframe to have a funeral after the death?

Typically in America, a funeral happens within a week to two weeks after death.  This is even without planning and the person having a will to guide you along.

You can organize most things in that time frame, while this may seem fast, some religions and cultures have them within a day or two after the death. But now that we have advanced preservation techniques and refrigeration units you can wait longer amounts of time. 

You could even have the actual funeral later if you were to cremate the body. One would get the ashes and you could have the service whenever you felt like. This would also save you time and money on refrigeration and transportation costs. 

Similarly, if the deceased is already buried, or the ashes already scattered, a memorial service can be scheduled for any later date. It wouldn’t technically be a funeral though, it would be a memorial service. See my article on how to have a meaningful memorial service.

What are the reasons and problems that delay a funeral?

There is no standard situation when it comes to having a funeral. Every death, family, and situation is different when it comes to planning a funeral.

While some people can have a funeral right away many can’t and have to delay them.  There is no wrong thing to do and some even find it more manageable by waiting as they can take the time to grieve and make plans without being rushed. Some issues for delaying a funeral may be short, like organ donation, and another longer such as a pandemic.

  • Time- Some people need more time before they have a funeral. This may be because friends and family members need to travel back to where the funeral will take place. Others may need or want more time to plan the funeral, it takes a  lot of work to plan one and if the deceased didn’t leave behind any documentation it could be even harder to do. So if you have not done it yet having a last will and testament set up can save your family some stress. I can really recommend US Legal Wills as a fast and affordable service for this.
  • Pandemic-In this day and age viruses and diseases can spread at a moment’s notice and can stop everything. If someone has died from the diseases or from other causes the funeral might not be able to take place because it is considered a gathering and fear of the spreading of getting the virus.  The city could also be on a lockdown which would not allow this at all. Traveling between countries other countries may not allow this as well. 
  • Family disagreements- As we all know families do not always get along. If the deceased is a mother or father the children may have different ideas of how they wanted their funeral to be.  This could lead to arguments if the family cannot decide. If there is no will, Deed of Grant it usually goes to the closest relative to decide. This could take lots of time to sort this out in court and could get messy. For help on this topic, please read my full article here.
  • Complicated last wishes– The deceased may have wished for something that is not very accessible or may take some time to put together. If the ceremony is to be held at a particular time and date it could be a longer wait than usual. This could be compounded by the fees to store the body until that time. 
  • Donation to science-  Some people would like to donate their bodies to science after they die. This is often done ahead of time and should be done sooner than later. If you are getting the body embalmed the process is sometimes different for this and may take a bit longer than you expected. It does tend to be speedy because they need the organs as fresh as possible, but transportation could be a cause for delay. 
  • Weather- Another reason that families may delay the funerals is to hold out for better weather conditions. This often happens the loved one passed away during winter months and they may or have to wait for spring or summer. Other related issues are hurricanes, heat waves, floods, etc. This could be very very dangerous for all involved if people try to get to the funeral. 
  • Several deaths at the same time.– This is very rare, but some families experience this, it often comes from a tragic accident but could also be random. Trying to hold more than one funeral within a few weeks can not only be difficult to organize but emotionally exhausting. This is also, expensive if it is one family member that has to pay for it all. It would be best to spread it out and have them apart. 
  • Holidays-  People are often traveling and in other, places and having it during these times may not be feasible. There are other religious one’s reasons, such as the end of Holy Week of Easter.  This also happens with days of the week, Catholics technically can’t have a burial on Sunday and Jews on Saturdays so check with your local cemetery to see if they adhere to these rules. While in Islam it is the opposite and will have the funeral as soon as possible no matter the situation. 
  • The Rise of Cremations- With cremations becoming more popular, it is easier to hold onto the ashes of the loved one for a funeral rather than centering it around the actual body. You can get a direct cremation which is quite cheap and easy right away than wait to have the funeral. This may be due to other reasons such as money or weather. You will just wait until a later time to plan a memorial service. 
  • Busy- It is a truth of life, people are busy. They have a preplanned wedding, vacation or something that was expensive or planned far in advance. You may just be busy with life and want to schedule it for a more convenient time. While death isn’t convenient and a loved one’s funeral should have priority,  we all have to do what’s best for us and our families. 
  • Transportation of the body- If the deceased was a soldier and the passed away overseas it may take some time to get the body back to the States. The government helps with this but it will still take some time. This will take even longer if they were living in another country or even states. Countries and states have rules about moving bodies across borders that need to be strictly followed and can be confusing. 
  • Foul play suspected- If a criminal investigation surrounds the death of a family’s loved one they will hold the body until it is have been thoroughly gone over. This also extends to insurance or wrongful deaths. If this has happened it can take a while for the coroner to release the body which will delay the funeral. 

How can I streamline the funeral planning process? 

Some situations are out of your control and you cannot do much about them. But there are some ways that you can streamline the process to have the funeral not only as quick as possible but as easy as possible.

This can almost all be avoided if you have a will set-aside. If you do not, at least having a set clear instruction and money for them would be the easiest.

But if your loved one did not, below are some steps to think about and help you along if you are starting from nothing. If you still find yourself overwhelmed and need help, see if your friends or family could help. You can also always hire a funeral director and they will take care of it all.

27 point checklist to organize a funeral

  1. Have all the information ready for the funeral home and the obituary.
  1. Choose a funeral home
  1. You need to pick the type of disposition that you want. Do you want a full funeral, green burial, cremation, etc.? 
  1. Choose the type of caskets, urn or shroud that you want the deceased to be placed into. 
  1. Select a grave marker. Do you want upright headstone or a flat bronze marker? There are a lot of options to choose from. See my article here
  1. What inscription do you want to be written on the stone? For more details on the cost, read my full article.
  1. Identify a location for the burial or for placement of the ashes. Where can you spread ashes, find out here.
  1. Choose a location for the service, whether it be a funeral home, church, etc. 
  1. What type of service do you want to have, a celebration of life, traditional catholic, military, there are a lot of ways to honor your loved one. 
  1. Pick what type of flower arrangements will be at the service and burial. 
  1. Choose the photo or photos that will be displayed and in the obituary. 
  1. Make or order any other displays, pamphlets or videos that will be at the service. 
  1. Write the actual obituary, make sure to talk about what you want for the funeral or service.  Some people do not want flowers or donations to go to a certain charity/organization. Other things to mention would be what parts of the funeral are private or public and if you want children to attend.  Having this in the obituary can save you a question later.  
  1. What music or sounds would you like played at the service, if any?
  1. You need to choose what your loved one is going to wear if it is an open casket. See my helpful article on how to dress your deceased loved one for more tips.
  1. Write and choose what you will read at the service. If others will be speaking, a friendly reminder of what you will say or how long they have is a nice consideration. 
  1. Get and put together the photos for a memorial register/guest book. 
  1. Reach out to those that may not have access or have seen the obituary. 
  1. Depending on the size of the funeral you will need to sort out transportation to and from the service for family members and friends. Also, the transportation of the body from where it is being stored to the funeral home and to the cemetery.   If it is a very large funeral you may have to notify local law enforcement to help with logistics of the funeral precession. 
  1. Who will lead the service? Do you or a family member want to do it or will a religious leader be the one speaking? You will also have to make these choices for the eulogy and the passages. Be sure to ask and inform the people before you do so. 
  1. Choose who will be the pallbearers.
  1. Obtain legal pronouncement of death and get a death certificate. This is easier to get now as they have the body if you wait you can still get it though. You will this document for other things like insurance and transferring property. 
  1. See what, if any burial benefits or services the deceased could get to ease the financial burden. There are a lot out there and with a little research, you can find one that fits your situation. If you are from a low-income family, please read my article here for some useful resources. 
  1. Set the actual date and time for the service
  1. Arrange the food or beverages if you are supplying them. If you are doing a potluck trying to coordinate with those that are attending can prevent 10 potato salads. 
  1. Arrange the embalming and body preparation if you want that done. 
  1. Make sure you submit the documents to the government, newspaper and all local authorities. 

When should I schedule the funeral?

There are some laws in different states that require you to refrigerate the body a certain amount of time, but if you are worried about that, don’t.  There is no set time frame or day on which a funeral has to occur.

If you get the body embalmed and have it in a proper facility you can wait quite a while and get everything in order. Ultimately, the choice of when to have it is up to you. But for normally for cost and stress concerns within 2 weeks is a normal timeframe.

No matter the reason for you delaying the funeral, the important thing to remember is that the funeral is about the memorialization and remembrance of the person. It does not have to be perfect and whatever you do to cherish your loved one will be appreciated by all.

Can we plan a funeral on Sunday?

Most of the time, the answer is yes. Most funeral homes in America are more than happy to accommodate a funeral on Sunday. There are some that do not so check first, the ones that don’t open on Sundays are usually smaller, Catholic, and family ran.

Again be aware of the cemetery policies regarding burials on Sundays as well. If you are having a religious officiant at the funeral, check with them because they may have to do a Sunday service. This also applies to those of the Jewish faith on Saturdays. 

How long after a death should the wake be?

This answer is similar to that of the question “How long after death is the funeral? A wake, viewing, visitation usually happens within a week of death.  The wake itself often happens the evening before the funeral but doesn’t have to be

How much will it cost to delay the funeral? 

There are many factors that will affect how much it will cost to delay the funeral. The biggest cost will be the storage of the body, which is about $50.00 a day. This is usually included in the funeral costs but you may have to pay for it if you are having the body stored for an extended period of time. For more information please read my article “How long can you refrigerate a body before cremation?”

What if I cannot afford the funeral?

You can first try to get aid from the government and then local charities, usually some are able to help you.  If you can’t pay for any of the burial costs, you can sign a release form. This releases the body to the state or local authorities to be buried or cremated. 

How long can a dead body be kept at home?

This varies from state to state and you should check your local and state laws. Usually, it is the state laws that will dictate how long you can keep a dead body at home. An unembalmed body can be kept around five days without a refrigeration unit and with dry ice.  See my article here for a more in-depth discussion about this topic.

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