Can You Legally Bury Someone In Your Backyard? (& How)

Are you considering home burial for yourself or a loved one? Can you bury someone in your backyard if you want to?

The quick answer to these questions is “yes.”

While home funerals and burials are generally still viewed as old-fashioned alternatives to funeral services and cemeteries, they are making a comeback as a “green” alternative.

Of course, there are always legal and practical caveats, and we’ll cover some of those today. But no matter the reasons you are looking into home burial, whether personal, religious, or financial, it’s a really good idea to know the facts before you dig in.

We’ve done our best to gather those facts for you here. Let’s take a look.

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What Is a Home Burial?

Home burial is a burial that takes place on your private property.

Cemeteries have always been around, but so, too, have home burials. Before the 1900s, Americans often practiced burial at home. Often – especially in more rural areas – a family would have their own private family cemetery on their piece of property.

Funeral homes (parlors) began to be established around the mid-1800s, as the Civil War was raging. With these professional establishments came an increasing “professionalization” of burial services. With this came a shift in burial grounds.

Formerly, burials took place at home (on private property), in community cemeteries, or at the church cemetery. But as funeral homes established their own private cemeteries, these became the new tradition and the other options have fallen by the wayside.

Today, home burials are not very common, but they can still be done. Let’s find out how.

Being Buried on Your Own Property

For most states, the answer is yes, you can be buried on your property. That said, each state has different requirements when it comes to burial laws. In addition to the District of Columbia, only three states have outlawed home burial. They are Indiana, California, and Washington State.

For example, in Idaho, there are no laws that restrict home burial, but it is important to check with local government and zoning laws before establishing a home cemetery or burying a beloved family member in your backyard. In contrast, the laws in Indiana, as well as D.C., say that you must bury a body in an established cemetery. Washington’s laws are similar. California has the harshest laws and heaviest regulations in the country concerning burial.

There may be a way around this, and that is by establishing your own cemetery. In California, Washington, and Indiana, you can check with the zoning department to see if you can establish a family cemetery on your property. However, you’ll have some hoops to jump through. Many people find it’s not worth the effort or that their property does not qualify in any event.

Be Sure This is What You (or They) Want

Before you go through the trouble of learning the legal requirements, building a casket, and establishing a cemetery in your backyard, be absolutely sure this is the route you want to take.

Speak extensively with your family and friends about your (or their) plans and wishes, and have everything in writing, down to the last detail, of how you wish for your final disposition to be carried out. Realize that burial, once completed, is permanent. Consider future moves or other ensuing possibilities, and how a home burial may affect these.

How to (Legally) Bury a Body in Your Backyard

Now that we’ve discussed what a home burial is, and the various legal ins and outs, let’s talk about how to actually do it (legally).

You will need to:

  • Read up on the local laws in your state
  • Discuss your plans with your family
  • Enlist the help of a funeral director if needed
  • Ensure that the body is buried within 24 hours
  • Dig the grave to the proper depth
  • Hold the funeral service
  • Properly lower the body into the grave

Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these.

Step 1. Read up on the local laws in your state.

Most states make it legal to take a body home from the hospital, nursing home, or other places of death and bury it on your private property. As stated above, the following locales prohibit home burials: Indiana, California, Washington State, and Washington, D.C.

Certain states and counties have rules about the minimum distance that a body can be buried from water bodies, electrical lines, other buildings, and roads. These rules are called “setbacks.”

You should know what permits you may need. As long as it’s your own land, you shouldn’t have any trouble obtaining permits.

Step 2. Discuss your plans with your family.

In every state, the legal next of kin has all rights, custody, and control over the dead body. If you want to be buried on your property, make sure the appropriate person has been informed.

Have your wishes in writing and sign a funeral planning declaration. By doing this, you will ensure that your plans are followed.

Step 3. Some states require a funeral director.

Ten states require you to have a funeral director file the death certificate.

The funeral director may also have to remove the body from the place of death. The most restrictive laws are in New York and Louisiana. In these two states, a licensed funeral director must oversee everything concerning the body or the funeral.

If you are burying the body at home, filling out and filing the death certificate will be your responsibility. But only if a funeral director is not involved.

Step 4. Is embalming or refrigeration required?

The family has the right to care for the body at home, in most cases. Refrigeration or embalming is not required if the body is buried within 24 hours. Most states will insist upon refrigeration or embalming if the body isn’t buried within 24 hours.

You will need to bathe and dress the body of your loved one. Someone can apply makeup after bathing and dressing. You will need help to place the body in the casket. Unless the deceased person is very small, lifting the body and placing it in the casket will probably take 2 to 3 people.

Pack the body in dry ice and place it in a cool room of the house to preserve it longer.

Step 5. How deep do I need to dig the grave on private property?

Many states only require 18 inches of dirt to cover the top of a casket or burial vault. It is suggested to find a place with solid ground and dig three to six feet down. It is best to place the body at least three feet deep. At this depth, most animals cannot smell the body and won’t desecrate the grave. (Especially if you aren’t using a casket.)

The right grave-digging tools are a must. It can take one person roughly 8 to 10 hours to dig a human-size grave by hand. Need visuals? Following these step-by-step instructions with pictures will help you gain a better understanding.

Once you have finished digging the grave, place boards across the open grave. Place the casket on top of the boards, over the center of the grave. You are now ready to start the service.

Step 6. Hold the funeral service.

You can choose to hold the funeral service at your family home or the graveside. When you are holding a service at your home, there are no rules to follow.

You can have it as religious or as secular as you want. Play any type of music that you want. Throw a party or make it somber. The choices are all up to you!

You can have your pastor speak, a family member, or a friend. You don’t have to have any rules unless you want to.

Eulogy writer Aubrey Bauer recalls when her husband’s great-uncle passed away.

Although his body was cremated, the family held a memorial service in their backyard. His niece designed and printed off the funeral program. There was a piano player for music, and several family members shared memories of happy times spent with him. Everyone brought some food, and the pastor also stopped by to say some words.

It was a beautiful day, in a natural setting. The birds were chirping, and the services were simple and low-key, just as their uncle would have wanted.

Step 7. Lowering the body into the grave.

After the service is over and everyone has said their final goodbyes, it is time to lower the casket.

Have 4 to 6 people to help lower the body. The head of the casket will be the heaviest end. Place ropes underneath the casket and through the handles. Lower the casket slowly and evenly.

At this time, you can ask family and friends to throw in some dirt. Family members placing the dirt on the casket symbolize that people are made from earth, and they return to the earth upon death. The next of kin always throws the first handful or shovelful of dirt.

The choice is yours if you want to place a marker on the grave. If this is the first grave in your cemetery, set a precedent.

FAQs: Burying Loved Ones in a Yard

Here are some answers to the more frequently asked questions regarding home burials.

Do You Have to Have a Casket for Home Burial?

There are no state laws that require the use of a casket for home burial. You can place a person directly in the earth, in a burial shroud, an eco-friendly casket, or even a vault without a casket. Whether you want a casket or not, with home burials, it’s up to you.

You can choose not to use a casket or vault at all. This is considered a “green” burial. It is healthier for our environment – the idea of green burial centers around simplicity, no casket, vault, or embalming.

Can you make your own casket? The simple answer is “yes”! It is legal in all states to build your own casket. You can find designs online, woodworking magazines, or make up your own.

When building a casket from scratch, you will only need to pay for your wood plus hardware and fixtures. When compared to the several-thousand-dollar price tags of most caskets, building your own is a much more cost-efficient option.

If you are an experienced “do it yourself” person, you can expect it to take 6-10 hours to build. You can even make a casket from old pallets, here’s how.

What materials can you make your own casket from?

  • Cardboard – This is the least expensive material.
  • Metal – This is difficult to work with.
  • Hemp – Typically woven.
  • Wood – Pine is the most common type used.
  • MDF – Medium Density Fiberboard

The materials you use can influence the cost of your project.

The dimensions of a standard adult casket are 84 inches in length, 28 inches wide, and 23 inches in height.

You will have to make adjustments accordingly for an oversized casket or a child’s casket. And there are a few differences to consider when it comes to choosing a coffin vs. casket.

If You Bury Someone on Your Property Do You Have to Pay Taxes?

In a word, yes, you still have to pay taxes. Land designated as a burial ground must be used exclusively for that purpose, so your home won’t have tax-exempt status if you bury someone in your backyard.

Additionally, depending on state laws and local ordinances, there are many conditions families must meet for their property to be designated family cemeteries.

As the property owners, if you were to meet all those conditions, file the proper permits, and permanently dedicate a portion of your property as a burial ground, that particular portion of your land may (depending on local regulations) be tax-exempt.

What Happens When You Bury a Loved One in Your Backyard?

What can you expect to happen after you bury a loved one in your yard? As you can imagine, there are pros and cons to home burial, especially backyard burial. Your yard is technically now a cemetery, and with that, comes the need for cemetery maintenance, reverence, and care.

Pros for home burial may include:

  • Visiting your loved one’s grave whenever you want to, without having to leave the comfort of your home
  • Having control over the “grounds,” i.e. being able to upkeep your yard to the level and quality that you would want for your loved one’s grave
  • Having control over who else gets to visit your loved one’s grave
  • Knowing that their grave is safe from animals or vandals

Cons for home burial may include:

  • Having to leave the grave behind if you move
  • Family and friends paying frequent visits to see the grave
  • The spookiness of knowing there is a deceased body in your backyard
  • Ensuring that the grave site and landscaping is well-maintained through the years

Can You Bury a Body Without Embalming?

The short answer is, yes, you can bury your loved one in the backyard without embalming.

As a modern practice, embalming hasn’t changed much since it first became popular in the United States, during the Civil War. It was a state-of-the-art preservation technique, affording bereaved families a little more time to say their final goodbyes to their soldiers before the decomposition process no longer allowed it.

Embalming is still popular today, but natural burial or “green” burials are becoming more commonplace. As stated previously, in its most basic form, a green burial is simply burial sans embalming and non-compostable materials. An eco-friendly shroud may be used, or a biodegradable coffin, or the body may simply be lowered into the earth.

While you can certainly bury a body without embalming, it’s important to note that, should you wish for an open-casket service with the aid of a funeral home, embalming will most likely be required. And you will most likely be required to refrigerate the body if burial or embalming does not take place within 24 hours.

What If You Move or Sell the Property?

In the future, you may decide to move. If you decide to move from your property, the future buyers must be made aware of the cemetery.

The deed to the property usually must contain a description of it and the use of the site. If you don’t let them know about any graves, there could be legal repercussions.

You can always ask a real estate agent, an estate expert, or someone in the funeral industry how to go about disclosing this information. A lawyer may also provide the necessary legal advice.

It’s nice to know that we all have the option of a home burial. It is never too soon to start planning for your final resting place.

Read Next: Funeral Trends of the Future

How to Legally Bury a Body

25 thoughts on “Can You Legally Bury Someone In Your Backyard? (& How)”

  1. I would like to make a family grave site. where anyone in my family can be bury on my property. I live in Louisiana what would i need to do so. N still plan on living on my property

  2. Hi Christy,

    I believe that in Louisiana you will need to establish your property as a family cemetery with your county or city clerk, subject to any applicable zoning laws.

  3. Karen, thank you so much for your article! I am in my 60’s and am looking at all options available for me and my mum. We do not own property, but perhaps a friends’. I do not believe that burial etc. should be costly. Again…thank you!

  4. Much gratitude to you for your informative information about home burials. I reside in Texas & after spending over $2,000.00 for a grave spot for myself at a local cemetery finally finished paying it off 3 1/2 years ago, cemetery representatives inform me of an added cost of a concrete liner/casket/coffin burial container which costs an additional $1,100.00 + $1,295.00 for opening & closing it! Plus, the cheapest pine wood flat top casket/coffin would cost me an additional $800.00! I’d just rather cut my losses skip the funeral & just bury myself with my final 2 loved 1’s in my own backyard. After all, I was born on it, lived on it, worked on it & will most likely die on it & it makes it mine! That’s a similar line from a 1940 motion picture, “The Grapes Of Wrath”. My property was also left to me by my now late mom, God rest her soul by her will.

  5. I am about to make our private cemetery in Danville Va. I have permission from the city attorney and public works. The underground utilities are being marked next week.
    There is an existing cemetery on the adjacent land, with dates from around 1900 to 1950.
    This land has been in the family for nearly a hundred years.
    Wish me luck!

  6. I’d like to be buried in my best friend’s backyard. He is really my family member . But their backyard is on buffered ground on wetlands. Would it be possible to be put in a shroud and tree planted on top? Any idea what are the guidelines in New Jersey?

  7. You’re best bet is to talk with a local funeral director. They’ll be familiar with both state and local laws!

  8. Take my ashes, mix them with resin and pour into small molds. Everyone can have a piece of me for a paper weight.

  9. Hi Christine,

    Yes, you can legally bury and urn or ashes, or spread ashes, on your own property.

  10. Hi Christine, my name is Ken. My best friend loves my property and he wants me to bury him in my backyard. Am I legally allowed to do this?

  11. Great question! I don’t have any data on that, but I have heard that having a loved one buried in your property can reduce the home value. You can imagine that if there are 2-3 potential buyers, that drives the value of your property up. But if several are uncomfortable with a body being buried there, that reduces competition and therefore reduces price.

  12. Hi Ken,

    Yes, as long as you are following all local laws and regulations, you can bury a friend or family member on your property.

  13. Does burying a loved one on your property, make you exempt from property taxes and impossible for anyone to take your home such as liens or lawsuits

  14. Doe’s burying someone on your property eliminate paying taxes? Is there a cost and do you have to make it publicly accessible?

  15. Laws vary by state, and county/city ordinances vary as well, so it is impossible to give a definitive answer. But in general, if you bury someone on your property, you still have to pay taxes. If you were to designate a portion of your land and have it approved and registered as a cemetery, then in some states *that portion* of the property could be tax-exempt, but you would still pay taxes on your home and the rest of your property.

    If it was designated as a family cemetery or burial ground, it would not be publicly accessible. However, if you registered it as a public cemetery then of course it must be publicly accessible.

  16. Do you know if you can still be buried on a piece of property that you are a legal heir to, have an interest in and are a taxpayer, along with several other heirs (taxpayers) who also have interests in of the same property?

  17. I live in S. Texas, and I own my property, I would like a green burial to be done as soon as I am pronounced. My neighbor will dig the grave to 6 feet, I have not looked into the permits yet, I do not have a huge piece of property, so I would be buried not far from the home. Do I need to be “pronounced” dead by a funeral director before being buried? I’d like to be buried as soon as I am dead. No service, nothing, just put me in the ground and cover me with dirt. Is there going to be a problem with my not having a huge yard or property?

  18. Hi Patricia,

    You’ll always want to get a legal pronouncement of death, along with the death certificate. But once that is done you are free (as far as the state is concerned) to bury on your own property, regardless of size. However, your local county or city may have laws that affect private home burial, so check with the county or city clerk. Also I would encourage everyone to think through the future ramifications for your property, if your relatives decide to sell it the burial will need to be disclosed. To be on the safe side, always check with a lawyer who is familiar with your local laws!

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