A. It’s your choice. Legally, custody and control rest in the hands of the closest of kin as defined by your state law. Our loved one’s remains are not the property of any commercial or governmental entity. Families have been caring for their own for thousands of years. With this information and support, you and your loved ones can have control over this profound moment in your family’s life and receive enormous personal benefits that come with making these important decisions for yourselves.
Q. Is a home funeral the right option for you?
A. Here are some questions that will help you better gauge whether or not a home funeral is your best choice.
Q. How would your loved one want his or her body cared for?
A. This may inform how you decide to move forward. By having such information in writing in an advanced directive or other such document you can feel assured that you are acting on a loved one’s known wishes. Many bereaved people take great comfort and pride in fulfilling their loved ones’ last wishes.
Q. What are the regulations in your region?
A. It is important that you learn the laws of your state regarding caring for your own. You can obtain this information from a local Funeral Consumers Alliance affiliate, by downloading your state’s chapter from the book Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, or by obtaining a brochure specific to your state from the Funeral Ethics Organization (see Resources). More information can be found in the Resources section at the end of this document. You should know which documents you need and the timeline related to each. These include the death certificate, and transport/burial permit/authorization to cremate. The Office of Vital Statistics, Ofﬁce of Public Health or the County Registrar in your area should be able to tell you where to obtain such documents. Keep in mind when contacting these ofﬁces that the person you speak with may not know the laws regarding home funerals, so be prepared!
Q. What’s your plan?
A. If time permits, having a plan will help you decide what aspects you would like to do yourself and what you would like others, including funeral directors, to do. Preplanning will allow for others, directly or indirectly involved, to be aware of your intentions and have time to ask questions. Here is a short list of some of the people who may need to know your plan and with whom you will want to coordinate aspects of after-death care.
Family and friends
Medical examiner (ME)
Registry/permit staff/Town Clerk
Bereavement Support providers
Q. Who is available to help?
A. Make a list of tasks that will be needed and see if you have a group of people available to help you carry them out. It helps to have a team. Some prefer to hire a funeral director to take care of such things as the paperwork or the transportation, while others prefer to do it all themselves. Some of the tasks are as follows:
Body care — (see Caring for the Body above)
Moving/transporting deceased — Keep in mind that you will need strong individuals able to lift and carry the body safely. Also, you need to know the regulations regarding how a body can be transported (e.g., open or closed vehicle, rigid container, simple cover).
Paperwork — Obtain it, ﬁll it out and deliver it to the designated ofﬁce in a timely fashion. Get extra copies of the death certificate for later use. Copies will be needed for Military/Vet Benefits, banks, Social Security Benefits, insurance, credit cards and other purposes.
Make disposition arrangements — Make sure that the cemetery or crematorium will accept a body delivered by a family. If you choose to use the services of a funeral director, discuss what you would like for them to do ahead of time. Ask the funeral director for a General Price List (GPL). They should not force you to purchase more than you require or desire, and they should be willing to work with you. If the deceased has a pacemaker and is to be cremated, the pacemaker must be removed prior to cremation.
Make or purchase casket, urn or shroud — Ask the crematory or cemetery about their container dimension and materials requirements.
Arrange servicesif a formal or religious service is desired — Contact clergy or another celebrant or invent a ritual yourself. Do you want to have a service in a church or a facility other than your home?
Notify the community — Call friends, family, co-workers. Contact newspapers if obituaries or memorial notices are desired.
Create a memorial — Is there some kind of ongoing legacy to be organized? Donating a park bench, implementing a scholarship, or some other meaningful legacy?
Some of these tasks may not be pertinent to your situation, but knowing which ones are and who will be responsible for them in advance can be extremely beneficial.
Q. What to do at the time of death?
A.If the death was unanticipated, the police or medical examiner’s ofﬁce must be notiﬁed. Be sure to have Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) information available if Emergency Medical Services (EMS), police or medical examiner is sent out. If death was expected and the person was on hospice, follow the procedures given you by hospice staff. Some hospices require a nurse or doctor to pronounce the time of death; others request that the family report the time. In this situation, there is no emergency that needs to be attended to. Instead of rushing to the phone, you may take time to sit and be present. Once all calls have been made, the body has been released by the medical examiner’s ofﬁce (if ME is involved) and has been brought home from the hospital, nursing home, ME’s ofﬁce or other facility, the home funeral (aka home vigil) can begin.
Q. What kind of ritual and/or ceremony should be performed?
A. The choice is yours. Families may choose rituals that have special meaning for them, and can include special words, poems, prayers, chants, and/or activities like singing, painting a casket, or meditation. For some, the whole process of caring for the deceased becomes a ritual; for some, a designated time is set aside for a ceremony; while for others, a service in a church or other house of worship is arranged.
Q. What are the choices for final disposition?
A. Burial in cemeteries and cremation are the most common practices for ﬁnal disposition. Depending on where you live and the regulations in your area, other alternatives such as burial at sea or natural burial on your own land (aka home burial), outdoor pyre, alkaline hydrolysis (a water-based chemical process for decomposition), body composting, body donation to medical or forensic facility, promession (human remain disposal by freeze drying), or using cremated remains in various ways may be possible. If choosing to have a cemetery burial or a cremation, knowing whether or not a cemetery or crematorium will accept a body directly from a family should be found out sooner than later. Be sure to inquire about cost and inform crematoriums if deceased has a pacemaker. Once arrangements for the ﬁnal disposition are settled, initiate a plan for transportation of the body. In most states, a family can transport the deceased with the necessary permit and a rigid container. Some states require the casket be transported in an enclosed space. Note:the family may have already transported the body from place of death to another location.
The NHFA is a nonprofit 501c3 organization committed to supporting home funeral education. The NHFA does not offer certification opportunities. Membership in the NHFA and participation in its activities does not constitute endorsement of any kind.