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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 that being present with the dead body can have profound implications. In this brief talk, Order founder Caitlin, beautifully explains why—you can watch the video, or read the transcript.

Another crucial reason is the desire to make a good death accessible to all, and the issues inherent with the current funeral industrial complex such as an imbalance of power, limited accessibility, and an unnecessary financial burden that’s 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:

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.

How do I arrange for a home funeral or home burial?

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 about a home or backyard burial?

Home burials are technically legal in most states. We say technically because if you don’t have a cemetery already legally established on your property you may need to invest a good deal of research, time, and expense.

Out of the four places – Indiana, Washington, California and the District of Columbia – with bans on backyard burials, (there’s currently a Bill to overturn this law in Washington), reasons center on issues of space, and wanting to avoid future real estate deals that could potentially turn into that backyard pool scene from Poltergeist.

A good place to start is by checking in with your local zoning board. You can expect to see regulations on distance requirements from things like water sources, electrical lines, and roads which make home burials in suburban areas particularly difficult even if they’re legal in your state.

If you’re concerned that establishing a cemetery will bring property values down, you might be surprised to learn that’s not necessarily the case, since “zoning around cemeteries (especially historic ones) is rather strict, limiting new builds and expansion. Combine that with the presence of historic homes that often exist near historic cemeteries – homes that require extra upkeep and renovation – and you’ll see selling prices rise.”

Photograph via Tender Funerals located in Australia.

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.

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 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.