Funeral Laws: A Simple Overview

Funeral Laws: Arrangements

  • Do-it-yourself.  In the majority of states, a family, community or religious group can handle a death without a funeral director. You can also appoint an agent or someone to handle your estate once you pass. There are however, 9 states, that have laws which demand you to retain a funeral director: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York. 
  • Using a funeral home.  The FTC Funeral Ruleguarantees your right to buy only the funeral services and goods that you want. There is no requirement that you obtain embalming, funeral service, hearse, etc. Review the items you want by checking the General Price List at a funeral home. There are minimum fees and arrangements that, however cannot be declined. For example, such charges as funeral planning (permits, routes, death certificate, crematory items etc.), and overhead are included in such prices. 

Funeral Laws: Embalming

  • Embalming is NOT required unless there is a unique case. Direct cremation and immediate burial do not require any type of embalming. A large number of funeral homes will insist on embalming if you plan on having an open casket Embalming is mandated when a body crosses state lines in Alabama. Minnesota, Nebraska and New Jersey require. Several other states require either embalming or a sealed casket if the body is shipped by common carrier

Funeral Laws: Cremation

  • Alternative container/Urn.  No law requires the use of a casket or urn from the funeral home. You specify exactly what you want here or purchase it yourself. 
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  • Scattering.  You may disperse the remains on your own property, or anywhere else you see fit that is not federal land, or land not owned by another individual or company.  If you want to scatter remains there, you will require permission. Technically you are supposed to scatter remains at least 3 miles out from shore but this is not enforced by the EPA. By private citizens.
  • Transporting.  Remains that are cremated can only be transported by the US Postal Service; the ashes must be in an inner container within a padded outer contained, and if possible should be non-metallic. Make sure you have official documents still attached from the crematory, or at least copies. 

Funeral Laws: Burial

  • Casket.  A funeral home must give you the complete listing of caskets, with descriptions and prices, you have the right to buy a casket from a third party; and the funeral director is required by law to accept it. It is not required for you to use an outer burial container to enclose any casket that you choose. Some cemeteries may require it but it is not required by law.
  • Cemetery.   Only a few states require cemeteries to give you a copy of the rules pertaining to markers, grave decorations, and visiting hours prior to the sale so make sure to do your due diligence. Also watch out for any additional fees prior to signing any agreement with the cemetery. 
  • Home burial.  Most states permit burial on private property outside city limits, but each municipality has its own zoning restrictions and permit requirements so again do your due diligence. 3 states do not allow home burials, California, Indiana, and Washington State. 
  • Veterans.   All veterans are entitled to burial in a national cemetery at no charge. The family must pay for all funeral home expenses, such as casket, service, and transportation to the cemetery but everything else is governed.

Funeral Laws: Complaints

File a complaint with your state’s Funeral Board, state Attorney General, or the Federal Trade Commission (consumer.ftc.gov or toll-free 1-877-382-4357). 

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