How long can the funeral home hold the body? This is a question that is asked often and for various reasons.
Every family’s circumstances will look different at the time of their loved one’s death. Some may be prepared for it, while others are sadly not.
They may not have had time to make decisions like whether to cremate or have a traditional burial. To have a graveside funeral service, celebration of life, home funeral, or wake.
These scenarios and more can surface, especially if there are a lot of people involved in the decision-making.
There is also a multitude of life-situation-type reasons to delay the funeral:
- Lack of funds
- Family members are spread out and have to make travel plans
- The burial or cremation question
- Dysfunctional family — unable to make decisions
- Unable to locate next of kin
- The cause of death is under question or is part of a criminal investigation
These are just a few of the reasons a body may need to be held at a funeral home. Let’s dig a little deeper into the details.
How long can a funeral home hold a body?
At this time, there is no federal law stating how long a funeral home is allowed to keep a human body.
That being said, many states have rules establishing that human remains must be embalmed or refrigerated within the 24 – 48 hour time frame. That timer starts with the time of death.
Depending on circumstances – such as contagious diseases— some states demand cremation or burial of a dead body within 24 hours of death out of concern for public health and safety.
Once a death has occurred, the body will begin to decompose. In North America, a memorial service is typically held within a few days of a person’s death, and usually no longer than ten to fourteen days after.
Funeral homes work quicker and more efficiently than you would expect, and just a few days is enough time for the entire process to take place and necessary funeral arrangements to be made.
It is important to check your state laws when you have questions about keeping the deceased’s body for any length of time.
Some states that have regulations governing the time frame:
- North Dakota wants the disposition to be completed within 8 days. The state doesn’t permit refrigeration as a technique of preservation.
- Washington DC: Disposition must take place within seven days.
- Delaware: Final disposition must happen within five days.
- Connecticut and Indiana: Disposition of the body must happen within a “reasonable time.”
- Oregon: Once a funeral home holds a body for ten days, it must report it to the state board.
- Ohio: If a body has a communicable disease it must be cremated or buried within twenty-four hours.
- Montana: A body that has died of an infectious disease must be handled as little as possible, and the final disposition must take place in a reasonable time frame.
During what stage of the process does organ donation take place?
Organ donation can only occur when the individual has died in the hospital.
Since it is a surgical, medical procedure, it takes place immediately after death is pronounced and before the body is presented to the hospital’s medical examiner.
Once the body arrives at the funeral home, it is ready to be prepared for burial.
Does the cause of death affect how long the funeral home will hold the body?
If the body was/is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, the need to perform an autopsy or postmortem examination gives the local authorities or the federal investigation bureau involved and their coroner a superior right to possess the dead body until it can be released, or the investigation is concluded.
The medical coroner will follow standard body storage practices (refrigeration) until that time, but the decay process will already be well underway once the funeral home receives it.
As situations will vary, consult with the funeral home as to how your specific timeframe may have been affected.
How long can a funeral home hold a body after embalming?
Embalming is only meant to preserve the deceased person for the public viewing of the body and the funeral; it isn’t permanent. It is meant to slow down the decaying process as well as to disinfect the body.
An embalmed body will look presentable for about a week, so funeral home staff prefer to hold the funeral service within 1-5 days of the embalming.
Especially if it is an open-casket funeral, it’s best to shoot for a short timeframe.
How long can a funeral home hold a body before cremation?
In many cases, there are no embalming procedures done before cremation.
This means the body will be refrigerated in the facility’s coolers. These coolers store dead bodies between 36 degrees Fahrenheit and 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
As stated above, some funeral homes within the United States have their own rules as to how long they will wait before the cremation process.
How long can a funeral home hold a body before burial?
There is a lot to accomplish when it comes to funeral planning but believe me, it can be done.
There are also legal requirements that have to be met and documents to retrieve, so depending on the date of death they can take an extra day or two to obtain.
This would include obtaining the medical examiner’s signature on the pronouncement of death form, the official death certificate, and retrieving the burial permit as a few examples.
What happens if a body is left at a funeral home?
If a body is left for too long, most funeral homes will start charging the deceased’s family a daily storage fee.
Funeral homes are not storage facilities, therefore they want you to make your decisions and carry them out in a reasonable amount of time.
They are always very gracious, as they understand this is a difficult time, but you want to be respectful and considerate of them as a business as well.
There are a variety of reasons as to why a body may be left at a funeral home.
Common reasons could be that family members can’t make decisions, are arguing amongst themselves, can’t come up with funding, or face numerous other unforeseen events that are out of the family’s control.
If this is the case, the funeral home will contact the county coroner and let them take over.
The family will have to sign a form giving up their rights to the decedent.
Once the coroner steps in and takes the body into their custody, they are free to cremate and not return any cremated remains to the family at a later date.
This is not a final decision that a family should make lightly, but sadly sometimes there’s just no other alternative.
How long does an embalmed body stay preserved?
There are many variables that may affect the outcome of embalming.
Embalming involves draining the natural bodily fluids and replacing them with a preservative. This slows the decay process, although it does not halt it.
If the body was embalmed well, it may be preserved for up to ten years or longer.
However, the embalming will look best within about a week, so the funeral home won’t want to wait much longer than that to have the memorial service and burial.
We hope that we’ve been able to answer your questions on this particular topic surrounding death.
This can be a stressful time, but having solid resources can help alleviate that.
By talking over your final wishes with your family, much of the stress and decision-making will be alleviated before a death has taken place.
Talk to your local funeral home about pre-arranging your funeral service. Whether you want direct cremation or a full traditional service with a casket burial, a funeral director is available to help you make your plans.
Keep in mind, when you make prepaid funeral arrangements, there is usually a payment option of 3, 5, or 10 years. The benefit is that it locks in that sales and merchandise price with the funeral home.
Karen Roldan has been in the funeral industry since 2006, and a licensed funeral director and embalmer since 2008. She is currently licensed in the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania.
She attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, IL, and graduated with an associate degree in Mortuary Science.
Karen enjoys wring about the funeral industry because her passion is helping families in their deepest time of need. She feels being a funeral director is a calling and she is proud to fulfill this role.
Karen is a wife and the mother of four sons. She, her husband and their youngest son call Pennsylvania home.