How Long Can A Dead Loved-one’s Body Be Kept At Home


Time is our most precious commodity. We seldom have enough to do the things we want to in a day, let alone in an entire life.

Like time, life is limited and we all pass away sooner or later. When we lose a loved one, we, again, are constricted with time. Our time to say goodbye is limited and we might not have enough. 

Grieving takes time. Some of us can achieve closure faster than others, but all of us do need time. One of the common steps of aggrievement is to view our lost ones and to say our own personal goodbyes.

This can certainly take time, depending on the amount of family and friends participating. We might not have time enough. With limited time, most of us would prefer that it be spent in a comfortable, recognizable location, perhaps even at home.

If a person dies at home then you have up to 5 days before legally having to start funeral proceedings. Bringing a body home from a hospital isn’t advised. Decomposition will begin within days, so it’s essential to start preserving the body. Laws for obtaining a death certificate vary across states.

If you are thinking about spending time with your recently parted loved one at home, it’s probably due to one of three main reasons; they have passed at home, they passed in a hospital or you want to return them to their home before continuing with funeral arrangements.

I am going to talk about all these situations and more in the following article.

Before we get into the laws, let’s look at why people might want to, or have to, delay the burial and other funeral arrangements.

Why Keep the Body

There are several reasons why we would want to keep the body for as long as possible. Let’s looks a few here.

  • Perhaps the loved one died aboard or just out of state. The body will need to be preserved on the trip home. If this trip is a long one, you can expect embalming (see below) to be the only option. 
  • There might also be another special occasion in and around the time of death, and more time might be required to adjust things.
  • The family and friends might just need more time to achieve closure and to prepare themselves mentally for saying goodbye.
  • There could also be an ongoing investigation that will certainly delay things.

But why would you want to keep the body at home? Let’s look at each of the points above.

  • The lost loved one that was abroad might be given one final chance to “come home.”
  • The grievers might not be in suitable condition to travel from their homes
  • The juggling of other occasions might make home the only option financially.
  • At home, people don’t feel rushed and can get the closure needed.
  • Home is a safe place, and if there is an investigation, a sense of safety might be desired.

In most cases, simply the ability to allow the grieving to happen in a familiar locale instead of a funeral home is usually why people would want to have the viewing at home.

However, the body will most likely leave the home and return for the viewing, and then leave the home again. This might not seem like such a good idea when we consider this.

The Laws

There are no specific laws regarding how long a loved one can be viewed prior to burial or cremation. Nor is there any mention of a particular location a viewing had to take place, whether a private home or in a funeral home.

However, there are laws regarding how much time you can delay getting the death certificate. This delay varies from state to state and can be found in the table below.

Since a valid death certificate is required prior to burial or cremation, the table thus supplies us with an amount of time, in days, that we can at least, delay a burial. Perhaps, this can be delayed further depending on the case, but at least you can see the minimum. 

For example, since Alaska requires that a death certificate be obtained within three days, we can say that in Alaska, it is acceptable to delay burial by at least 3 days.

State Window for Death Certificate State Window for Death Certificate State Window for Death Certificate
Alabama5Louisiana5Ohio2
Alaska3Maine3Oklahoma3
Arizona7Maryland3Oregon5
Arkansas10Massachusetts5Pennsylvania4
California8Michigan3Rhode Island7
Colorado5Minnesota5South Carolina5
Connecticut5Mississippi5South Dakota5
Delaware3Missouri5Tennessee5
Florida5Montana10Texas10
Georgia3Nebraska1Utah5
Hawaii3Nevada3Vermont5
Idaho5New Hampshire1.5Virginia3
Illinois7New Jersey1Washington3
Indiana3New Mexico5Washington D.C.5
Iowa3New York3West Virginia5
Kansas3North Carolina5Wisconsin5
Kentucky5North Dakota3Wyoming3

Some states actually allow 10 days to obtain a death certificate, while New Jersey requires it to be obtained within only 24 hours. The average amount of days is 4.5 days. 

Should you call a funeral director immediately?

In many states, there are no laws that force citizens to conduct a funeral through a registered funeral home. Rather you can work directly with a crematorium or mortuary.

However, in certain states, the body cannot be released into the custody of anyone other than a funeral director, namely Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York.

If your loved one has passed away overnight or in the evening you can certainly wait until the next day to call a funeral home or even a few days. Be aware, however, then in some climates heat will accelerate the natural decomposition and steps should be taken sooner if you want to hold a traditional viewing.

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Should I hold a viewing at home or in a funeral home?

This is a personal choice and depends on whether the body of the deceased has been embalmed or not. If the body has been prepared in any way then it’s likely to have been done in a facility somewhere.

This will obviously involve transportation of the body and so logistically it may make more sense to hold a viewing at the funeral home. Of course, this is something you need to decide with your family as there are no particular rules or regulations which dictate your plans.

How to preserve a body after death

When a person passes away, the body begins to decompose quite soon. This change can happen quite rapidly but we have two main methods of delaying this. In the modern-day, the two most common methods employed are embalming and refrigeration.

This article will not take an in-depth look into these processes, but we will spend a bit of time explaining the differences.

Embalming

Embalming is the process of draining a body’s fluids and replacing them with a solution that will delay decomposition.

It might sound terrible, but for those that wish longer viewing times, it might be the better option. Embalmed bodies can usually be viewed for about a week before it is suggested that burial or cremation proceed. But a week is pushing it. 

Embalming is more costly than refrigeration and if cremation, instead of burial, is the chosen file process it might be seen a burden that can be avoided.

For more information on just how long you can wait to embalm a body please read my in-depth article on this topic of funeral planning.

Refrigeration

Refrigeration is really not ideal for viewing a body but is still an option. In this process, the body is kept in a large refrigerator and brought out for short periods of time for the viewings.

Since the body will be cold, and the window of view is limited so much more that with embalming, this might not be a good choice for a large group of grievers who wish to say their own personal goodbyes.

In most cases, refrigeration is used for keeping the body while the paperwork is completed. And is very common for cremations.

There is an option, in some crematoriums, to view the actual cremation through a window, and might serve as an alternative to keeping the body for viewing. Of course, the body is burned within a casket or coffin (but if you need to save on expense you can consider renting a more ornate coffin or casket, see my article for more details.

Furthermore, this option is most likely not an option for those that intend to keep the body as a home for the viewing, as they won’t have a suitable refrigerator.

Practices Around the World

In other countries, where cremation is more prevalent, like in Asia, refrigeration is an option. Actual portable refrigeration units can be rented and used both transportation and the viewing can then be done quite easily at home.

These units have small windows in and around the face of the body and can thus grant the grievers a look at the loved one while they say goodbye.

In Islamic cultures, burials are the only option, and they must be conducted within 24 hours. This obviously puts a lot of constraints on the idea of keeping a body at home for a viewing.

In Hindu cultures, most people prefer to die at home. They take great pains to see to it that this happens. The body is then kept at home until the cremation which happens within 24 hours of dying.

In Swedish Christian funerals, the funeral, the subsequent burial, is usually delayed for anywhere between 1 week to 3 weeks. However, embalming is not a common practice, and the actually viewing is quite short. 

There is a U.S. based company called Eternal Reefs who will take cremated remains to build a cement sphere or “reef ball”.  The body won’t be going home, but instead will become a new home for local sea life.

Another great option is to get the ashes made into a permanent piece of jewelry, you should check out the beautiful handcrafted pieces Mark Hamilton makes with cremains by visiting his site here.

The Yanomami of South America, the Wari people of Brazil and the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea would bring home lost tribe members in order to consume their corpses in a process referred to as endocannibalism. This tradition was a  way to get rid of the fear of death.

Kiribati, a Pacific island nation, bring home their dead.  Depending on the status of the deceased, they might be viewed for up to 12 days, then buried. After months they dig up the body and collect the skull, polish and clean it, then display in their home.

The Apayo from the northern Philippines bring their lost ones home for eternity and bury their dead under the kitchen floor.  

The ultimate keep-at-home funeral is a tradition performed by the Tinguian, in the Philippines.  These people will dress the mummified bodies of the dead in their best clothes annually and put them on display.

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