According to lhlic.com the average cost of a funeral in the USA is anywhere from $7000 to $12000, but it is often more.
This isn’t to say that all of these costs are necessary, the funeral business, like any other business, is run for profit.
The biggest expenses are often ones that the grieving family don’t even realize that they can refuse, so should we all try to arrange funerals without the help of funeral homes, and is it even possible?
Organizing a home funeral is almost universally possible in the USA, however, some states may require a funeral home to handle certain administrative tasks. The biggest concerns will be registering the death, preservation of the body and arranging a burial. Cremations must be done by a professional.
Planning a funeral without any involvement from professional funeral directors is a serious but financially liberating undertaking.
What I’d like to do in the following article is to go into the question in a little bit more details and share some thing that you really should know if you are considering taking this step.
What the law says
In most states, there is no law stating that you have to use a funeral home, and US law states that people have the right to purchase whatever funeral plan and services they choose. This includes choosing not to use a funeral home.
Although the law does not require families to use a funeral home, most families choose to use one because of the regulations required for handling a dead body.
See the table later in this article for more details
Handling things yourself can be very complicated and stressful as it subjects you to the same laws as a funeral home would.
Families who choose to do it themselves are defined as “a person acting as a funeral service practitioner,” this is not an easy responsibility to take on while you are mourning.
There are some cases where a funeral home has to be used, such as when repatriating a body by air. If this covers your cases, then you might want to read my article on moving the deceased via airplane.
What does a funeral home normally do for you?
In some cases, depending on where you live, dealing with a funeral home for some key aspects of a funeral is unavoidable. However, in many other ways, their services are merely an expensive convenience.
So, if you take the majority of the services a funeral home offers for an average funeral, what can be done by you, and what should always be handled by them?
Things that can be done by you
- applying for a death certificate
- receiving and transporting the body
- cleaning and dressing the deceased
- cosmetic preparation
- hosting a viewing
- hosting the ceremony
- arranging the catering
- arranging seating and outside shelters
- providing a casket or urn
- arranging the burial or cremation
Things that must be done by them
- applying for a death certificate (in some states)
- embalming (due to the special equipment)
- Transportation (in some states)
- cremation of the body (because, you just do that yourself!)
So, in many ways you can either completely avoid using a funeral director at all, or pick and choose which aspects of the funeral they are involved in.
Just remember, always ask to see the full range of goods, and don’t settle for the first price they tell you. For example, you can save yourself nearly 50% on a casket if you buy it yourself instead of going through the funeral home. Just check out TitanCaskets.com for a real-world example
Opting for A home funeral
A home funeral is choosing to keep a body at home after death. It is considered to be, a more loving way to say goodbye and allow a family to make all of the decisions themselves.
A home funeral will save a family a lot of money as it gives them the ability to make all of the arrangements themselves or with the help of friends. There is also more time for extra visiting as the body is at home, and it can give additional time for grieving and even help a family find closure.
There is lots of responsibility to take on, however. Caring for a dead body is not simple or easy, and it is not for everyone.
If you’d like to know a little more about how long you can keep a loved one at home after death, then please refer to this article here.
What are the costs of a home funeral?
Compared to a professionally directed funeral, which can cost as much as $12,000 (and more), a home funeral can cost as little as US$3000.
This amount covers the death certificate, a shroud or box for the body, ice for cooling, and the transport. Burial or cremation would be an additional cost ranging from $2000 for the former and $1000 for the latter.
What will you need to do?
In essense the only thing stopping most people from handling the funeral of their loved one is that they have never done it before. But with a little bit of research and preparation there is nothing holding you back from planning a respectable funeral.
Below are some things you will have to consider:
- Only nine states require a family to hire a funeral director to help with paperwork, transporting the body, and supervise the disposition of the body. In all other states, families may choose how much assistance they need.
- Firstly you should notify family, friends, and then the community.
- You’ll need to wash, dress, and layout or put the body in a casket. You can use open windows, dry ice, Techni Ice® or air conditioning to cool the body for up to three days.
- You will have to file a death certificate and it must be filed with the authorities within the first few days. A burial or transit permit will be issued when the death certificate is filed. For help with the death certificate, contact your state or local office.
- You’ll have to choose between a burial or cremation. If you choose to bury the body, you will need to find a cemetery willing to accept the body and then decide on the casket or shroud (see my recommended items for cheaper deals). If you want to cremate, the crematory will require a cremation authorization form, which can be signed by next-of-kin, other agents, or in some cases, the deceased before death.
- Plan the memorial service if you’re going to have one.
- File completed cremation or burial paperwork and obtain certified copies of the death certificate
- In most states, you will be permitted to transport the body to your home or the place of disposition. You will need to get the proper paperwork, including the transit permit and death certificate. Funeral Customers Alliance.
Can you bury a body at home?
Most states have no laws prohibiting home burial, but some require bodies to be buried in established cemeteries. However, it may be possible to have a family cemetery on your land. You should check with your local zoning laws to make sure.
For more information please refer to my article here on burying loved ones at home in the USA.
Must the body be embalmed?
Embalming is mostly not required. In some states, however, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition will not occur within a specified time. Again, you can check for your state laws here.
You can also read my article on what you should know about putting off embalming a body and exactly how long this will give you to plan a funeral.
When a body is not embalmed, refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time ( 2-3 days).
Although not having a home funeral and handling all of the preparations by yourself means you will have ultimate control and more personal time with the deceased, it can also be a very stressful time for your family to have to deal with the legal requirements.
If you find you no longer want to handle the stress of doing it alone, you might want to consider allowing a funeral home to assist you partially with the handling of the body and assisting with the legal arrangements, which would amount to less stress for you and your family.
Additionally too, not all states will allow you to handle a dead body without any professional supervision, and so you may even find this is the route you will have to take to still have the private, intimate time you want, at home, with the deceased.
What are the state requirements for a home funeral?
Please refer to the details for each state below this table for more details
This list serves only as a guide, please check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws you must follow.
Below is a summary of the main points from the table above per state
In Alabama, it’s totally legal to have a home funeral and you do NOT have to work with a funeral director if you don’t want to.
The state of Alabama also doesn’t have any set laws about preserving a body if you go down the home funeral route..
In Alaska, there are no state laws that say you can’t have a private funeral or even a home burial.
Just like in Alabama, the state doesn’t have immediate laws on the time limit to start preservation of a body for home funeral families.
If you live in Arizona you can have a private funeral and even a home burial and be within the law.
However, the state of Arizona does stipulate that The body has to be embalmed or refrigerated after the first 24 hours.
In Arkansas, you aren’t required to hire a licensed funeral director and so a home funeral is entirely possible.
When it comes to preserving the body, however, they want it to be embalmed or, failing that, refrigerated at below 45°F after 24 hours if a burial is planned. If you are planning a creation, you have 48 hours before you have to embalm or refrigerate.
Californians can keep a loved one’s body at home with the family following their death. This implies that a home funeral is also permitted
California doesn’t set any clear regulations for when a body needs to be embalmed or refrigerated.
Colorado doesn’t state a law that requires a funeral director with a current license needs to be involved in any funeral.
This being said, there are laws that say a person needs to undergo embalming or refrigeration after being dead for a day.
Where is gets ticky for home funerals is that “Contagious or communicable diseases” have to be reported to the local health authorities, this can be done either by the family acting as a funeral director or a licensed funeral director.
Connecticut requires the involvement of a licensed funeral director in many aspects of final arrangements.
No preservation time requirements for home funeral families.
Disposition must occur within a reasonable time.
The Funeral director must be hired to remove the body, file the death certificate, and handle the disposition of bodies with a communicable disease.
There are no laws that will stop you from having a private funeral and a home burial in Delaware.
They do state that The deceased has to undergo embalming (but this isn’t allowed if dealing with certain diseases) or failing that, refrigeration after the first 24 hours.
Disposition of assets must occur within 5 days, but it’s best to deal with a lawyer for this part.
The district of Columbia doesn’t have any enforceable laws which say a licensed funeral director has to be hired or even involved.
Also, there isn’t anything in the statutes which states any requirements about when and how preservation for home funeral has to be carried out.
You will, however, have to get in touch with your lawyer as disposition needs to be carried out within 7 days of death.
If the deceased succumbed to a contagious or infectious disease, their remains do need to be dealt with by a licensed funeral director.
If living in Florida, you don’t need to work with a funeral director as there are no laws saying this.
For preserving the body, the state says embalming or refrigeration should be started after the first day of death.
If death occurred due to a contagious or communicable disease then it is recommended that a doctor be notified, but likely they already are aware of the fact.
Georgia doesn’t have any state laws which prohibit home burial or privately run funerals, nor do they have any guidelines for how and when to start preserving a deceased love one at home.
Although you don’t need to work with a licensed funeral director in Hawaii, there is a law on preservation.
The body has to be embalmed (but not allowed for infectious diseases) or refrigerated after the first 30 hours after death.
Idaho is another state which allows privately organized funerals and even home burial and also doesn’t state any laws for when families need to start preservation measures.
However, A doctor should be notified when death was a result of contagious or communicable diseases.
If you are living in Illinois and wanted a totally funeral director-free funeral, you may not be able to achieve that. The state requires th that a licensed funeral director be involved in many parts of a funeral by law.
This being said, there doesn’t seem to be a law about when preservation of the body needs to begin, but it seems likely that this is because it’s covered under another law for funeral directors.
One clear stipulation is that only a funeral director can file the death certificate, so you will need to hire one for this.
Just across the state lines, Indiana has a similar home funeral policy as Illinois. The state requires that licensed funeral directors be involved in certain parts of your funeral, even if it is taking place at home.
These laws don’t cover any limitation on when the preservation of a body being kept at home should begin. Although local state laws do say that disposition should happen ‘within a reasonable time’, which your lawyer will able to better explain to you.
In the state of Indiana Funeral Director must be hired to:
- deal with a disposition permit
- file/receive the death certificate
- receive cremated remains.
If you live in Iowa, then you can have a legal private funeral and even a home burial without the state trying to stop you.
You can keep at the body without preservation if for up to 3 days after which you need to refrigerate it (38°F and 42°F) for 3 further days, at which point burial or creamation is expected to happen.
Like with other states, in the case of death from a communicable disease, you are expected to report this to a doctor who will assess the situation. Embalming in these cases is mandatory.
Along the same lines, funeral director is the only person who can either cremate or embalm bodies with infectious disease.
Kansas doesn’t have any laws to prohibit the practice of home funeral (or home burials).
The state says that a body needs to be preserved by emablming or refrgeration after the initial 24 hours after death. However, it seems that this time can be extended if requested by the family.
Kentucky has a number of stipulations for death by infectious or contagious diseases,so it’s worth checking with a lawyer to know your rights.
In these cases, if the funeral happens rapidly, within the first 24 hours, then you won’t need to involve a funeral director. This also goes for embalming.
If someone does die from a disease like this, they are required to be buried immediately in a sealed metal casket.
It is legal in Kentucky to conduct a home funeral and you do not need to employ the services of a funeral director.
Kentucky also doesn’t have any laws on when a body needs to start being preserved.
Louisiana is a state which will limit how a home funeral can be conduected. Under state law a funeral director will needed to be hired for many key parts of a funeral.
After 30 hours, you need to have the body embalmed or refrigerated (below 45°).
Like with other states, you should talk to a doctor when the deceased has a contagious or communicable disease as they will need to be involved.
Maine is another state where you can do everything for a funeral yourself without needing to involve a licensed funeral director.
Maine also doesn’t define any parameters for preserving a body and when it need to happen.
However, you still need to report to a doctor if the deceased died from any infectious disease as they will need to be examined.
Residents of Maryland are able to carry out funeral at home without being outside of the law.
There are also no restrictions on when you need to start preserving a body, especially for home funerals. You do, however, need to talk to a doctor when a contagious disease was the cause of death.
Massachusetts does not require you to involve a registered funeral home to assist you in any of your arrangements.
There are also no limitations on when and how bodies need to be preserved.
As with many parts of the USA, it is your duty to contact a doctor whenever a death occurs due to contagious or communicable diseases.
In Michigan, home funerals can occur but there are some rules you need to follow. A funeral director (or doctor), for example, must be hired to file the death certificate and be the one to oversee the disposition.
Although there are no laws that say when you need to start preserving a body, you cannot use refrigeration as a method when dealing with infectious or communicable diseases.. Only embalming is allowed in Michigan in these cases.
It’s also mandatory to report all cases of death by communicable disease
In Minnesota, you can also have a home funeral buy you’ll need a medical official or funeral director to obtain the death certificate for you.
When it comes to preservaton, The body has to be embalmed or refrigerated after the first 3 days.
You can only use refrigeration for a maximum of 6 days. If using dry ice, you are limited to 4 days.
Overall, the state only says that disposition must occur within’ a reasonable time’.
When faced with death by a contagious diseases the Commissioner of Health will need to be consulted for further instructions on preservation.
In Mississippi, you don’t need to hire a licensed funeral director for any part of your home funeral.
If moving a body from one location to another more distant one, the body must be embalmed or refrigerated after 24 hours if that final destination won’t be reached. This is also true if the funeral won’t take place within 48 hours of death.
If dealing with any threat to public health due to a contagious disease, a doctor needs to get involved.
As with many states Missouri doesn’t force its residents to work with a funeral director nor do they have any limitations on when preservation of the body needs to begin.
The state does stipulate that if burial or cremation of a body exposed to an infectious disease doesn’t occur within 24 hours, it needs to be embalmed.
Home funerals are allowed in Montana without any limitation on normal services
However, when the death occurred due to infectious disease, the remains should be disposed of as soon as reasonably possible and the actual contact with the body should be limited.
If you are transporting the body any great distance, it needs to be embalmed or refrigerated if not expected to reach its destination within 48 hours.
If you were planning a funeral without any involvement of a funeral home in Nebraska, you may be disappointed.
Although there are no guidelines for when and how you need to preserve a body, the state does require that a funeral director be hired for certain tasks.
These include filing for the death certificate, signing transit permits, and supervising interments.
Although the state of Nevada allows people to carry out home funerals, they do have some rules on certain aspects of the process.
If you are planning a cremation, you’ll need to start refrigeration after 24 hours of holding the body.
When death occurred due to contagious or communicable disease, you’ll need to call a doctor and the Board of Health might enforce embalming.
In New Hampshire state law allows families to retain custody and control of their loved ones, even after death. This makes home funeral very possible
Although the state doesn’t clearly say when preservation of the body needs to take place the law does state that if the body is available for viewing for over 24 hours, it needs to be embalmed.
If you are a resident of New Jersey you won’t be able to have a home funeral without at least some intrusion by a licensed funeral director.
Although the state of New Jersey doesn’t have any rules on how and when preservation of the body needs to take place, they do have certain laws involving funeral directors.
You’re going to need to hire a funeral director to file the death certificate and supervise the disposition.
In New Mexico, you can carry out a funeral at home without consulting a licensed funeral director.
However, the state does stipulate that a body must be embalmed or refrigerated (below 40°) if a burial or cremation doesn’t occur within 24 hours.
By law, you are also required to report any death by contagious or communicable disease to the Office of Medical Investigation.
If living in the state of New York you won’t be able to plan and carry out every aspect of a funeral without hiring a licensed funeral director.
The state doesn’t say when and how a body should be preserved but there are quite a few things a funeral director will have to do for you.
In the state of New York, a funeral directors must be hired to:
- file the death certificate
- receive a body from a hospital, institution, or another place
- personally supervise the funeral services
- personally supervise the interment or cremation.
North Carolinians can have a home funeral by law and aren’t required to follow any particular preservation procedures by a particular time.
However, you can’t embalm a body when death was due to specific diseases. Also, if death was due to contagious diseases, then burial will need to carried out in a sealed casket. (see my recommended items list for a great deal on this)
You can have a home funeral in North Dakota if death was fairly natural, but if a particularly contagious disease was involved there will be some conditions.
In some cases the state calls for immediate disposition. When transporting a body, it will need to be embalmed if it will not reach its destination within 24 hours
This is also true if the disposition won’t be compled within two days. North Dakota aslo says that all dispositions have to take place within 8 days of death.
If the death occurred due to a communicable disease, you’ll need to have the body embalmed and the state doesn’t accept refrigeration of the body as a substitute in these situations.
Ohio has no laws limiting private funerals or home burials and only states that people who succumbed to a communicable disease have to be buried or cremated within 24 hours.
You can conduct home death care in Oklahoma.
The state has no preservation time requirements for home funeral families.
You can have a home funeral in Oregon without hiring a licensed funeral director.
The state doesn’t say when families have to start preservation measures for a body.
However, if the funeral or cremation hasn’t taken place within 10 days of a death, it has to be reported to the Mortuary Board.
If the death occurred because of a communicable disease and you want a public viewing, the body will need to be embalmed.
By law, those people living in Pennsylvania can have a home funeral and even a home burial if no local laws prohibit it.
The state doesn’t give any guidelines for when a body needs to be preserved if holding a home funeral.
In Rhode Island, it’s also possible to conduct a home funeral without the need to hire professional help for general arrangements.
The state of Rhode Island also doesn’t stipulate any laws for when and how a body needs to be preserved by a family opting for a home funeral.
There are no state laws in South Carolina that say you can’t have a home funeral, or indeed a home burial. Nor do they state any rules on when you need to start preserving the body.
However, when a contagious or communicable disease was the cause of death, you are advised to contact a doctor for further information.
If you live in South Dakota, you can opt for a home funeral without the involvement of a funeral director. You also don’t need to follow any timeline under law to start preserving the body.
Tennessee is another state which allows both privately run funerals and even in some cases home burials.
The state doesn’t enforce any timeline in which you should start body preservation either.
At the state law level, Texas doesn’t prohibit home funerals without using a funeral director, or even home burial.
You should check with local governments as at the local level rules governing private burials may be different.
When it comes to preserving bodies, the state law says that they should be embalmed or refrigerated (35-40°F) after 24 hours unless you are holding them in a sealed container.
There are no state laws in Utah prohibiting home burial.
No preservation time requirements for home funeral families.
If you want to conduct a private funeral in Vermont you can do it without the need for a licensed funeral director.
The state also doesn’t require that you begin preserving the body within any particular timeframe.
In the state of Virginia, you can conduct both privately run funerals and even home burials.
This being said, you are required to embalm or refrigerate the body after 2 days following death.
In Washington, you can carry out a funeral entirely independent of a professional funeral director.
There are also no rules governing when and how a body needs to be preserved for a funeral.
West Virginians are allowed to organize funerals without relying on funeral directors to assist them.
The state also sets no guidelines for when preservation has to be carried out for a home funeral.
Wisconsin like many other states doesn’t have any clear laws prohibiting home funerals and even in some cases, home burials are permitted.
If keeping a loved one’s body at home, you aren’t required to preserve the body within any previously stated timeframe.
Wyoming is another state which doesn’t prohibit the organizing of privately run funerals. Home burials are also permitted in most cases.
You aren’t required to start preserving the body in any particular timeframe but embalming is mandatory for people who died from some communicable diseases.
Please check the following sources for more details:
Do I have to use a funeral home for a cremation?
Laws for cremation require the use of equipment and facilities that the average person does not have. Additionally, watching the cremation of a loved one can be overwhelming for most people.
Cremation does not include a funeral however, so in most states, you wouldn’t need to use the funeral home after or before the cremation.
How long can you wait to have a funeral after death?
For most people, a funeral will be held around one or two weeks after the death, and with proper refrigeration, a body can be preserved for this time.
However, technically speaking, you can wait as long as it takes for you to make the necessary arrangements before you bury someone.
If you are planning to keep the body of your recently deceased loved one at home, you’ll find my article on this useful.
Keep in mind, however, that some states do have laws that require you to bury someone within a time frame (see the list above).