What is a home funeral?
A home funeral is what used to be called “a funeral,” since all funerals took place in the family home. Nowadays it means choosing to keep a body at home after death, as opposed to having the body immediately picked up by a funeral home. It is a safe and legal choice for a family to make!
We want you to be informed and feel empowered so you can make the best decisions for you , and that starts with knowing exactly what your rights are. Our video, Corpse Control (Know Your Rights), is a great place to start.
There are many reasons we at The Order are passionate about advocating for and protecting your right to have a home funeral. Our organization was founded on the belief of our founder, Caitlin Doughty, that being present with the dead body can have profound implications. In this brief talk, Caitlin beautifully explains why – you can watch the video, or read the transcript.
Another crucial reason is that when viewing the funeral industry through the lens of social justice and the desire to make a good death accessible to all, there are issues present regarding an imbalance of power, limited accessibility and even safety concerns for our marginalized communities, and an unnecessary financial burden placed on families. To learn more about these issues read Why Caring For Our Own Dead Is An Act Of Social Justice.
What is a home funeral like?
Beyond keeping the body at home, a home funeral can be whatever is comfortable for you and your family. We’ve seen home funerals that are a family keeping mom at home for several hours in order to sit with her body. We’ve seen home funerals that are elaborate, intimate ceremonies that last three days. Don’t feel pressure to conform to any idea of a home funeral that isn’t exactly what brings you comfort and feels safe.
Here are some articles and videos that can give you a sense of what’s possible:
- An author’s father and father-in-law died within days of each other. One had a conventional funeral, the other a home funeral. Here’s what he experienced.
- This article provides a lovely account about what it’s like to have a home funeral. There’s a podcast episode that also discusses this funeral.
- Here’s an in-depth feature from the New York Times on home funerals, called The Movement to Bring Death Closer.
- In this recent future in Esquire, through an article and accompanying videos, you’ll meet Deloy Oberlin, and his wife Kate.
If you’re more a film type, A Family Undertaking is one of the first documentary pieces made about the subject, and is still the gold standard.
What are the legal requirements for a home funeral?
This depends on where you live, but it is important to start with the assumption that home funerals are legal basically everywhere.
Now, an important caveat is that each US state (for instance) has different laws – some states require you to hire a funeral director to file a death certificate or to transport a body. This won’t effect the keeping the body at home part, but the funeral director will need to be involved in the process.
As of now, there are nine states that on some level require you to work with a funeral director. In some cases you’ll only need a funeral director to file a death certificate, while on the other end of the spectrum, like in the state of New York, you must have a funeral director supervising the funeral and burial. Before you get discouraged, even in NY, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a home funeral, in fact, you might remember seeing news stories about the home funeral actor Steve Buscemi had for his wife in their Brooklyn home. Here’s a video to help you know what your rights are to keep the body at home, or at a funeral home, and also know how to work with a funeral home to achieve your goals. There are funeral directors out there who will work with you, or home funeral advocates who can support you and answer questions.
And if you’re interested in the requirements around embalming, burial, and cremation, read your consumer rights listed by state.
How do I arrange for a home funeral?
Although much of the planning for the funeral itself will reflect what is meaningful to you and your loved ones, there are practical issues you’ll want to prepare for like how to care for a body, or arranging transportation. A helpful step-by-step guide to all aspects of planning a home funeral can be found here.
Additional information about everything from how to care for and prepare a body, to dressing a body are outlined on the National Home Funeral Alliance website by category:
What should you do if your home funeral rights are challenged?
We don’t find that hospice nurses, hospital staff, and funeral directors are maliciously giving misinformation to families. Often, they simply don’t know the laws and rights regarding home funerals and keeping a body at home. Don’t let someone in a position of authority tell you you can’t keep a loved one at home.
Our friends at the National Home Funeral Alliance have created some excellent resources to help you if you feel your rights are being obstructed.
How hospital staff can help families make their way through the body release process after a death.
How hospices can help support home funeral families.
Resources for Law Enforcement agencies.
NHFA also has a guide available for a few dollars, on What to Do When Home Funeral Rights Are Challenged that contains a concise list of potential obstacles and how you can resolve resolve them.
Do you have to hire a death doula/midwife to have a home funeral?
It would be wonderful if families could do absolutely everything themselves, from body care to the burial or cremation, but that’s not always possible. In some places, a licensed funeral director will have to be a part of the process.
A home funeral guide (also known as a doula or midwife) is never required, although if your family is looking for help and advice through the death, hiring a guide might be a good choice for your family.