Are you considering a funeral at home?
It’s not so strange, really. Home funerals have been the norm throughout human history.
We’ll consider the benefits and drawbacks of a funeral at home as you decide if this is what you want to do. Here’s our guide to help you save money and plan a home funeral to honor your loved one.
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Home Funeral?
A home funeral is where all of the death care, burial preparation, and memorialization of the deceased is carried out by the decedent’s family and friends.
Often actually taking place at home, a home funeral allows family to take the initiative in putting their loved ones to rest.
The big idea is that the funeral and all related activities are led by the family, rather than a funeral director.
Do we have to do everything ourselves for a home funeral?
Having a funeral at home does not mean that you or the family has to do everything. For instance, you can still have the body cremated by a crematorium. This is called direct cremation, and it’s done by professionals.
If you’re doing a full-body burial, you can actually bury the decedent at home, or you can purchase a burial plot at a cemetery.
You can hire a professional caregiver – an “end of life doula” (also known as “death doula” or “death midwife”) – to assist you in home-based final arrangements.
The actual funeral can take place at the burial site, whether it is at a cemetery or at home. Also, the memorial service or reception can be held at a church, community hall, or even in a funeral home chapel.
The main thing is that a home-based funeral is directed by the family, and some of the funeral events occur at home. These might include:
Is it legal to keep a dead body at home?
Absolutely. Most states require that you promptly notify the authorities of the death, and you must apply for a death certificate within a few days (between 1-10 days, depending on the state).
How long can you keep a dead body at home?
Do you need a permit for a funeral at home?
No, you do not need a permit to conduct a home funeral for your loved one.
Some states (Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York) require you to hire a funeral director. You can talk with your local funeral director about their basic services fee and what you can do at home.
When did they stop having funerals at home?
There is a long history to the rise of the funeral industry, but the most common answer is that it began during the Civil War.
Since many young men were killed in battle far from home, early embalming techniques allowed their bodies to be preserved during the long journey back to their families. This gave rise to the professional mortician, who would also provide caskets and related services.
Over time, the embalmer’s services became more refined and people began to prefer letting the professionals handle the corpse, the casket, the digging of the grave, and other elements of the modern day funeral.
But it was not always this way, and you can certainly take things into your own hands. Here’s how.
How to Plan a Funeral at Home
Here are some of the things you’ll need to arrange in order to have a home funeral. This will give you an overview of what is involved in a funeral at home.
1. Choose someone to take charge
You, dear reader, are either looking into this option for your own funeral or for the funeral of a loved one. If the home funeral is for yourself, you will definitely need a close, confident, and relatively non-squeamish person who is willing to take charge.
Because this is a “non-traditional” choice, it takes a bit of learning and a can-do attitude to pull it off in our modern age. Make sure this person is 100% on board.
If the home funeral is for someone you love, you’re probably going to be the person to take charge. You know yourself; read on to determine if this is the right choice.
2. Everything will need to be paid up front
A home funeral will cost much less, but you’ll most likely need to purchase a variety of supplies from a variety of vendors.
With a “traditional” funeral, the funeral home bills it in one package and you can arrange payment terms with them directly.
But when you’re planning a home-based funeral, you’ll need to arrange payment with each individual vendor. These costs might include the cemetery, crematorium, vital records office (death certificate), and various sellers of caskets, urns, shrouds, headstones, ice, flowers, etc.
If you’re planning a funeral at home to save money, we suggest starting a free Ever Loved memorial website. This platform allows you to share funeral details, obituary info, photos, and more, and – importantly – collect donations to help cover the expenses. Read more here.
3. Transport the body
Unless your loved one both died and will be buried at home, you’ll need to transport the body at least once, perhaps twice. The most common transportation needs are from the hospital or morgue to home, and/or from home to the crematorium or burial site.
You can often use medical transportation services, and can sometimes hire a hearse. Otherwise, you will want a casket (whether permanent or temporary) to move the body. Ideal vehicles include vans and trucks.
4. Dress and preserve the body
You’ll need to keep the body on ice (using dry ice) unless you plan to bury or cremate right away. If you plan on doing a funeral or memorial service with the body present, you’ll want to dress the decedent in nice clothing and perhaps apply a bit of cosmetics to improve appearance.
Practical considerations aside, here’s something to consider: Many funeral directors and doulas and caregivers attest to the fact that many people experience a special sense of closeness and closure when preparing their loved one’s body for burial.
Learn more: What Happens to a Body After Death?
5. Obtain a death certificate
Contact the county or state vital records office right away to obtain a copy of the death certificate. You’ll likely want to get multiple copies: for your records, then to show for a cremation or cemetery plot, and miscellaneous government agencies.
Most of these can make a copy and return the original to you. Any institution that is going to send you monetary funds (pensions, stocks, 401(K), life insurance, etc) will want an original copy.
Check through this list, and call each institution to find out if you’ll need an original or a copy.
6. Decide on cremation or burial
See this article on making the choice between the two. If you are having a burial at home, you’ll need someone to dig (or rent and operate a tractor).
If you choose cremation, you’ll receive your loved one’s remains back in a few days and then you could schedule a memorial service for anytime. Cremation allows for more options and flexibility.
7. Select a container for final disposition
8. Plan the funeral service
Read our Funeral Planning Guide for more details, and simply adapt the options to suit your at-home needs.
Planning a Funeral at Home: Pros & Cons
Home funerals generally give you more control, less expense, and a sense of closeness to their love one. On the flip side, you have more to do and less time in which to do it. It’s a big commitment!
So you want to really consider what you’re doing. Here are some of the advantages and drawbacks of having a funeral at home.
Here are some reasons why you might choose a home-based funeral:
- You are involved and invested. It’s hands-on, giving you a much more thorough chance to say your goodbyes and process your grief through good old-fashioned work.
- Affordable. Home funerals save you quite a bit of money, since you are not paying the rates of a professional.
- Alternative. In the U.S. at this time, a home based funeral is considered “alternative,” which might be an ideal fit for you, your loved one, and your family.
- Old-fashioned, timeless human experience. From a larger perspective, a home funeral is the true “traditional” way that, historically, nearly all people and cultures have experienced.
- Creative and DIY. You like to do things yourself, figure out and solve problems, find creative solutions.
- Natural and eco-friendly. Home-based funerals are conducive to eco-friendly, natural burial with minimal waste and a low impact on the environment.
- Extended goodbyes. With the body being at home, you get more visitation time (and don’t have to pay for it).
- Closure. Some people experience a fuller sense of closure.
- Community and family. Dependence on family and friends to help out can deepen your relationships and allow everyone an opportunity to literally “work” through their grief.
The possible downsides – depending on your perspective – is that a funeral at home involves more work.
There will be more preparation, more education and research, personally handling the body, more paperwork, and more dependence on those around you.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind as reasons to forgo a home-based funeral:
- Stress. Organizing everything can be stressful and feel like a burden if that is not your natural inclination.
- Emotionally difficult. You may find handling the body to be difficult and feel ill at ease or “squeamish” about it.
- Comparable costs, without the stress. There are still relatively affordable options through the funeral home. These come with the peace of mind knowing a professional is working on your behalf.
- It’s hard to go against the grain. Using a funeral home is currently the “traditional” option. You may feel that fighting for an “alternative” method is not the right choice during a time when family and friends should be coming together.
- Professionalism is important. You prefer to have things handled professionally by experienced people who know what they are doing.
- Too many things going on. Many issues demand your attention, and learning how to prepare a body for burial is just too much at this time.
- Traditional funerals are getting eco-friendly, too. Contemporary funeral options that help care for and preserve the environment are available and becoming more common.
Remember, the home-based funeral is one option among several. Every choice allows you a range from having the funeral home take care of everything 100% to simpler and more affordable options like direct cremation with a DIY memorial service at church or a community center. The choice is up to you.
Daniel has been working in the funeral industry since 2010, speaking directly to grieving families as they made funeral arrangements.
He began researching and publishing funeral articles on this website as part of his role as product and marketing manager at Urns Northwest.
Having written hundreds of articles and growing the site to multiple millions of views per year, Daniel continues to write while providing editorial oversight for US Urns Online’s content team.