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Introduction to the Law and Procedures for Families

The descriptions on this website are our best understanding of the legal process based on our reading of government websites and our direct experience with families. In our experience the families who chose to act as their own funeral directors were ultimately successful. At times they faced resistance, obstacles, and specific rules and regulations (not laws) prohibiting family involvement, especially from cemeteries and crema­tor­ies. But they persisted.

We cannot address here each possible specific issue that may come up for individual families. We hope our explanations and descriptions will provide basic information and a roadmap to assist families in this journey.

In Massachusetts, as in all states, it is entirely legal to take care of your loved one in your home after they die. Most home funeral families have a vigil for one to three days. In Massachusetts there is a law that a person cannot be cremated until 48 hours after death. Rather than pay to have your loved one at a funeral home or crematory, this is the perfect time to have a vigil in the home.

Massachusetts and 40 other states allow families to do the paperwork and transport their loved one to final disposition, that is, to a crematory or cemetery. In nine “restrictive” states — CT, IL, IA, IN, LA, NY, MI, NE, NJ — laws have been enacted that prohibit families from carrying out these tasks. For a summary of state laws, see this link on the National Home Funeral Alliance site:

For detailed information state-by-state, follow this link to the Funeral Consumers Alliance:

Since this old tradition is, in modern days, still fairly rare, most state, city, town officials, and institutions (hospitals, nursing homes) have yet to experience a family wanting to hold a home funeral, and they often do not realize it is possible and legal. Their lack of knowledge can lead to resistance. Sometimes families and advocates need to educate those with whom they will be working.

When possible, before the death occurs the best approach is to have a family member or advocate inform any officials (hospice, hospital, primary care doctor, etc.) about the family’s plans to hold a home funeral.

Here are two important documents to have when approaching officials or policymakers:

After the vigil in the home, families have two choices:

As having families act as their own funeral directors is still unfamiliar to most insti­tu­tions, it will be important to acknowledge that there may be challenges ahead. The process is also new for you. It will take a certain amount of courage and persistence. Please be patient with yourself. Read the step-by-step process slowly and thoroughly; call us if you have any questions.

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Most recently updated 2018-09-04