Since time immemorial, before the introduction of funeral homes, family members were the ones responsible for disposing of the remains of their loved ones when they passed on. Unlike today, there was no embalming because the body did not need to be preserved for long. In those times, the processes between death and burial were carried out as soon as possible. The bodies were normally washed and packed in ice awaiting burial or cremation. Some burials even took place in the family home.
The home was considered a safe and familiar place, and so, the whole experience was more intimate and in a way “healing” for the grieving families. With the rise of funeral homes and advances in embalming, more and more families opted to hire funeral directors. It’s understandable considering how difficult it can be to lose a loved one, without including the responsibility of preparing the body.
Even so, there are people who still prefer the intimacy of home funerals as opposed to hiring funeral homes. It is still a cheaper option and a more hands-on experience in laying a loved one to rest. It also gives the family time to properly plan the funeral, not to mention the privacy and intimacy needed for a proper send-off.
What Is a Home Funeral?
What was initially considered a normal funeral today is defined as a family-directed funeral happening outside a funeral home. It is when the family of the deceased choose to keep the body at home and conduct the after-death care as opposed to hiring a funeral home. It’s considered cheaper than paying for pricey funeral home services. It’s also more intimate since it happens in the privacy and familiarity of home.
In the past, home funerals involved laying the deceased in the home parlor where family and friends gathered to care and offer support. The body would be washed and naturally preserved by packing it in ice or synthetic ice. Today, the following are the steps involved in a home funeral:
- Bringing the body home if the death occurred anywhere else.
- Planning for the after-death ceremonies or rituals like visitations and wakes.
- Preparing the body for burial or cremation by washing it.
- Naturally preserving the body using ice.
- Dressing and laying out the body for viewing.
- Filing for the death certificates and acquiring transport permits and other necessary documentation.
- Transporting the deceased to the crematory or cemetery.
- Facilitating the digging of the grave in the case of a natural burial
The defining aspect of a home funeral is that the family be the one involved in planning the funeral and in the after-death care of the body in noninvasive ways. Therefore, the funeral does not necessarily have to happen at home. It can happen anywhere with a personal or emotional connection to the deceased or the family. Additionally, while most of the planning and preparation is done by the family, they have the choice of hiring a funeral guide. This is a trained individual, also known as a midwife or doula, who educates and guides the family through the whole home funeral process.
What Is a Home Burial?
Home burial is when the burial is done at a private property belonging to the deceased or the family. Like home funerals, home burials were considered the norm in the past. With the professionalization of funeral, however, there was a shift from burying your loved ones at home to burying them in community cemeteries. Funeral homes also developed their private cemeteries which also became more popular than home burials.
Today, however, home burials still occur and are much cheaper options. With home burials, the family has more flexibility as to how the deceased should be buried. In some cases, like in green burials, the deceased may be buried directly without a casket. Alternatively, the body a be wrapped in a shroud, an eco-friendly casket, or placed in a vault without a casket.
You can also have the casket made if you want a customized or cheaper design. For an experienced person, the process of making a casket can take between 6-9 hours. Some of the materials commonly used in making your casket are:
- Old pallets.
- Medium-density fiberboard.
This could cost around $150-$300. That is thousands of dollars cheaper than what you would have paid for a pre-made casket. The cost varies depending on the material you choose to use. Metal can, however, be difficult to work with. Cardboard on the other hand is the least expensive choice although pine wood is usually the common choice.
If you do hold a home burial and eventually plan on moving to a different location, exhuming the body would be the only solution, even though obtaining a permit can be difficult. Once you sell the property you will lose the right to access the grave or any say in what the new owners can do to the remains. These are considerations you should have before making a decision.
Why Choose a Home Funeral?
There are very many benefits of holding a home funeral as opposed to a traditional one. Some of the main benefits you’ll get from choosing to do a home funeral are as follows:
It’s a more personal and loving way to say goodbye. Home funerals offer a more hands-on experience for the family and friends. By conducting the funeral preparations, the family can plan a unique and intimate ceremony for the deceased.
It’s therapeutic. Conducting the after-death care for the deceased, the family can find healing and closure. The time spent preparing for the funeral, helps them come to terms with the reality of the loss. They also have enough time to share their final moments with the deceased.
It gives more time and control over funeral preparations. Home funerals are more flexible than traditional funerals. The family’s decisions concerning the funeral are not limited by policies from funeral homes. So, they are free to plan the funeral however they see fit. Additionally, the family spends more time with the deceased before the final ceremony.
It facilitates bonding. By coming together to care for the deceased, the family and friends share a stronger bond. Through this bond, they can support each other through the grieving process.
It’s economical. The expenses incurred in a home funeral are significantly cheaper than what it would cost to pay funeral homes for their services. With a home burial, you can choose to make your casket or have a green burial. Moreover, processes like embalming which can be costly, are not necessary for a home funeral.
It reinforces the cycle of life. As you perform the after-death rituals for your loved ones, it helps you realize the inevitability of death. It reinforces the fact that death is a natural part of the cycle of life. This realization makes it easier to heal from losing a loved one.
Are Home Funerals and Burials Legal?
The right to make decisions over the remains of the dead legally falls on the deceased first. If there are no documented final wishes of the deceased then that right falls on a family member or an appointed individual. Therefore, the deceased, family or friends, have the right to decide on holding a home funeral or burial.
Just like in the past, even today, home funerals are legal in all states in the country. In most states, there are no specific home funeral laws that govern how the funeral should take place. In some states, some laws require a funeral director to be present in some of the funeral processes.
For example, during the application of the death certificates and transport permits. Some laws also require the funeral director to transport the bodies and be present during the final ceremony. The states that have some regulations regarding home funeral laws are as follows:
- New York
- New Jersey
As for home burials, the laws that regulate them vary from state to state. While most states don’t prohibit home burials, three states do. These states are Washington, Indiana, and California. In such states, the law requires the deceased to be buried in an established cemetery. To hold a home burial in these states, you would have to establish a private cemetery on your property. The cemetery can be a family cemetery. Note also that it is easier to get permits for home burials in rural areas as opposed to urban cities.
Before deciding on holding a home burial or funeral, it would be wise to confirm the state and local laws governing them. That way you can ensure that you are not going against any laws while practicing your right to care for and dispose of the remains of your loved ones.
What Are the Legal Requirements for a Home Funeral?
The legal requirements to hold a home funeral differs by state. The following is a list of some common legal requirements needed for a home funeral to take place:
Hiring a funeral director. In the nine states that require a funeral director during the planning of a home funeral, the family is obligated to hire one. The preparation and care of the body still fall to the family, but the States may require the funeral director to handle filing the necessary paperwork. In some cases, the funeral director is also expected to handle the transportation of the body and also witness its disposition. In states where this requirement is not mandatory, the family can still choose to hire the funeral director to assist.
Filling for a death certificate. In all states, you are legally required to file for a death certificate within the first days. The necessary forms are normally filled by the medical examiner first and then the family member in charge of the home funeral. In some states, however, a funeral director is also required to complete a section of the form and file it for a death certificate.
Getting a transport permit. To be able to transport the body from home to the crematory or place of burials, you must first obtain the transport permits. These are normally issued once the death certificate has been filed. Again, in some states, this responsibility is required to be handled by a funeral director instead of a family, member.
Getting an authorization for cremation. For cremation to occur, crematories often require an authorization form signed either by the deceased, next of kin, or appointed individual in charge of making the funeral decisions. In some states, the forms should be handled by the funeral director.
The issue of refrigeration or embalming. The is no legal requirement by any state for the family to embalm the body during a home funeral. There are, however, some states that have regulations about the type of refrigeration or cooling requirements. These requirements should be met while conducting a home funeral.
Authorization for home burial. As mentioned, some states prohibit the burial of a deceased at home. In other states, there are some regulations and requirements to be met for a home burial to be held. The main requirements are that the burial plot should be at least three feet, and away from cables, water, drainage, or gas supplies.
How to Plan a Home Funeral
As with traditional funerals, planning home funerals can be less stressful when done in advance. Although the home funeral is unique to the deceased and the family, some general steps can guide you in the planning process. The following are some of the general steps that can help plan a proper home funeral:
Research about legal requirements. Before deciding on a home funeral, it’s important to research the legal requirements and laws surrounding home funerals and burials in your area. Doing this beforehand helps you decide whether it is possible to meet all the requirements and prepare for them.
Find out how to care for a body after death. Most family members are not knowledgeable about how to properly care for a body after death. It is, therefore, important for the family to educate themselves on how to care for and preserve the deceased’s body after death. This is because it is their responsibility during a funeral. You can also hire a funeral guide to assist where necessary.
Appoint the person or people in charge of the home funeral. As the deceased, you can document your final wishes of how your body should be handled after death. This makes it easy for the family to follow and plan for your home funeral. You can also appoint a family member or close friend to make all the major decisions considering your home funeral. The family can also appoint if there are no final wishes documented. Having a few people leading the rest of the family, helps the planning process to run smoothly.
Shop around for the necessary items. With a home funeral, the items required are few. In the case of a burial, you can shop around for a casket or buy the materials to make your own. You can also look around for suitable cemeteries in states where home burials are prohibited. For cremation, some crematories refuse to work directly with the family, so it’s important to look for one that does beforehand.
Hiring a funeral director. As required by law or as per the choice of the family, you can hire a funeral director to help with part of the processes involved in the planning of a home funeral. Where the law doesn’t require it, you can hire a funeral guide instead to assist with the preparation.
Get the necessary paperwork done. For a home funeral, you need to file for a death certificate and get authorization for cremation if necessary. You also need to get transport permits to allow you to move the body from home to the burial plot or crematory. This should be done in the initial days after notifying proper authorities upon death. A funeral director can take care of this where required by law or if you need help.
Start preparing the body. The body should be washed and packed in ice awaiting cremation. You can also decide to cloth the body and lay it out in the family parlor where family and friends gather for viewing.
Hold a vigil. As part of the pre-funeral events, you can hold a vigil where all the family members and friends come together to sit with the deceased and support each other. During the vigil, sacred texts or poems can be read as well as, prayers or meditation. Alternatively, you could share fond memories of the deceased or play music while sitting around the body and reflecting.
What Should You Do If Your Home Funeral Rights Are Challenged?
The legal regulations regarding home funerals and burials can sometimes be tricky. The practice is not as common as it used to be. So, authorities like funeral directors or hospital staff may not be knowledgeable about the home funeral laws. Sometimes due to this lack of information, such authorities may challenge your rights to have a home funeral or burial. Funeral directors may also misguide you on the legal requirements to hold a home funeral.
That is why bodies like the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA) exist. Such bodies offer guidance on the legal complications to expect while planning a funeral and how to overcome them. They also guide you on how hospital staff, funeral directors, and law enforcement agencies can help during a home funeral and the roles they play. You can also seek their guidance on what to do if ever you feel that your home funeral rights are being challenged. The NHFA has a book on these guidelines that you can purchase on Amazon for a few dollars.
The whole process of planning for a funeral home and/or burial can be tasking if not done in advance. As with all planning, the key is time. The earlier the decisions are made the easier it will be for the family to carry out a proper home funeral and burial following all legal requirements. If you need help making decisions like picking a proper gravestone for burial, you should feel free to ask for guidance from family or experts.