Home Burials: How to (legally) bury a body in your backyard

Can you bury someone on your property? Can you bury a body in your yard… legally? Why would you want to have a burial at home? What do your state laws say about home burials?

I have done the research for you! Read on and find out the legality of backyard burials.

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 property.

Funeral homes (parlors) began to be established around the mid 1800s, and 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 can be done. Let’s find out how.

Related: Your Guide to Traditional & Non-Traditional Burials

Can you be buried on your own property?

Burial laws differ from state to state. For most states, the answer is “Yes,” you can be buried on your property. Only three states have outlawed home burial. They are Indiana, California, and Washington.

For example: In Idaho, there are no laws that restrict home burial, but it is important to check local zoning laws before establishing a home cemetery or burying on private land. In contrast, the laws in Indiana say that you must bury a body in an established cemetery. Washington’s laws are similar. California has the harshest laws and heaviest regulation in the country concerning burial.

There may be a way around this: Establish 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.

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 be tax-exempt if you bury someone in your backyard.

Additionally, depending on state laws and local ordinances, there are many conditions you must meet for your property to be designated a cemetery.

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.

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 can expect to pay somewhere from $150 to $300 for your wood plus hardware and fixtures. Compared to the several-thousand-dollar price tags of most caskets, it is cost-efficient!

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 most common type used.
  • MDF – Medium Density Fiberboard

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

What size do I make a casket?

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.

How to (Legally) Bury a Body in Your Backyard

Can you bury someone in your backyard? Read on to find out.

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, only 3 states prohibit home burials: Indiana, California, and Washington State.

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 you own the 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. Lifting the body and placing it in the casket will take 2 to 3 people.

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

Read more: Embalming Options That Avoid Formaldehyde

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 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. This website gives you step by step instructions with pictures.

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.

6. Hold the funeral service.

You can choose to hold the funeral service at your 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.

Read more: How to Have a Funeral at Home

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 man was made from earth, and he returns 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.

What If You Move or Sell the Property?

In the future, you may decide to move. Upon moving from your property, the new owners must be made aware of the cemetery.

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

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.

More information: The Complete Guide to Burial

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How to Legally Bury a Body

21 thoughts on “Home Burials: How to (legally) bury a body in your backyard”

  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.

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