What U.S. States Restrict Home Funeral Families' Rights?
Home funerals are legal in every state, but in nine states, there is a legal requirement to hire and pay a professional to execute specific aspects, such as filing the paperwork or overseeing the disposition.
Think about it. In all states, expectant mothers may have their babies at home; fathers may cut their children’s hair to avoid the expense of a barber; engaged couples may plan and carry out their own wedding without hiring professional planners or caterers; homeowners may snake their clogged drains to save on plumbing fees. And all Americans have the right to be cared for at home by their family as they near the end of life, where most people will agree they prefer to die.
What reasoning makes it acceptable to mandate hiring funeral professionals? What logic is there in allowing new parents to care for an infant at home and manage all the paperwork and transportation themselves when the state insists that those same parents are not allowed to care for the child themselves, managing the same kinds of details, if the child has died? Home funeral advocates seek legislation that neither impedes nor restricts families from caring for their own dead as they would care for them while living.
In the nine states listed below, families lose the right to independent, private control of their affairs when a loved one dies. Few occasions are as trying or intimate for any family as a death; it’s especially unfortunate that families should be compelled to engage in an expensive and unnecessary commercial transaction when death occurs. While it is true at this time that a minority of Americans will choose a home funeral, and most will gladly rely on funeral directors, it is the right to choose that must be protected. The Nine States Most states do not impose a legal requirement that compels citizens to patronize a commercial funeral home, but nine do. The ways in which state laws and regulations entangle families in forced commercial transactions are varied and inconsistent.
Connecticut—requires a funeral director’s signature on the death certificate and bars anyone but a funeral director or embalmer from removing a body or transporting it.
Illinois—defines “funeral director or person acting as such” to include only funeral directors and their employees, according to Illinois Administrative code.
Iowa—recently changed its law to disallow local registrars from being able to supply burial transit permits, thus forcing families to hire funeral directors or engage medical examiners to file for them.
Indiana—says burial permits can only be given to funeral directors, though other statutes clearly refer broadly to the “person in charge” of the disposition e.g. the next of kin).
Louisiana—mandates funeral director involvement in obtaining all necessary permits and funeral director presence at the final disposition of the body. In plain terms, the state literally requires families to hire an undertaker to supervise them.
New York—has requirements similar to Louisiana’s.
Michigan—requires that death certificates be “certified” by a funeral director - though the statute doesn’t define what that means. Additionally, the wills and probate section of the law requires all body dispositions be conducted by a licensed funeral director.
Nebraska—law requires a funeral director to supervise all dispositions and gives funeral directors the right and authority to issue “transit permits” to move the body out of state.
New Jersey—requires a funeral director’s signature on the death certificate and mandates funeral director presence at the final disposition of the body.
Why Meet with Your Legislators? There are many ways to share your views on important policy matters with your elected officials. These officials are deluged with emails and on-line petitions that show a minimal commitment to the issue at hand and frankly can be easily disregarded. Phone calls and non-form letters help to personalize the issue.
In-person meetings show the greatest commitment by far. Face-to-face meetings with your elected officials and their staff are a powerful way to get to know them and communicate your views. Legislators like to see you, their constituent, shake your hand and hear what you have to say. You literally put a face to the issue when you meet them in person. It is a critical step in educating them about the issues that affect our lives.
It’s fine to go alone but also consider inviting others to go with you. They can provide moral support, help with note taking and show that there are others who actively support the issue.
Before the First Phone Call Here are a few tips for having an effective, personal meeting with your state legislators:
Google the name of your own State Senator/Representative—here is a link to the National Conference of State Legislatures www.ncsl.org. This website will connect you to information about your legislator and what bills they are sponsoring.
Check YouTube for possible information about them.
Know the names of the Committees and Boards that regulate funeral laws.
Find out the dates of your state’s legislative session. Where are they in the cycle? Are there any bills pending on the subject of funerals, cremation, etc.?
The First Phone Call—Scheduling a Meeting
Introduce yourself and mention the fact that you are a constituent.
Request a face-to-face meeting with the legislator. Be prepared to offer home funeral/NHFA information to the staffer making the appointment time.
Be willing to meet with the staffer if the legislator is not available. Staff people can often be very influential.
Request a meeting at the district office as opposed to traveling to the state capitol, but be as flexible as possible.
Ask for at least a half hour meeting.
Be prepared to be persistent if the legislator is busy.
Organize Your Thoughts
Be well prepared. You may only have a short time so be concise and clear.
Personalize the issue—be ready to tell specific stories.
Know what you are asking for.
Bring hand-outs and show a short video clip if possible.
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.