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A home funeral is a funeral which is conducted privately by the members of a family, without the assistance of a licensed funeral director. In many regions of the world, home funerals are perfectly legal, although family members may have to jump through a number of administrative hoops in order to ensure that the funeral complies with regional laws. People who are interested in arranging a home funeral should do their research ahead of time, to ensure that the funeral runs smoothly at the time of death.
Laws about home funerals are quite varied, although in some regions, the law has been streamlined in response to agitation by activists who have tried to make home funerals as simple as possible. Typically, a single family member is designated to be in charge, and he or she is responsible for obtaining the death certificate for the deceased, and then filing for a disposition permit. Once this paperwork has been filled out, the home funeral can proceed.
Caring for the dead is viewed as very important in some cultures and religious groups, and many regional laws recognize this. People are sometimes surprised to learn that it is entirely legal to keep a body at home until the time of a funeral, and that bodies can be transported in private vehicles to cemeteries, crematoria, and other locations of final disposition. Many funeral directors have made a conscious effort to obfuscate the laws surrounding home funerals, as they do not want to lose out on potential profits, and in response, some advocacy organizations have arisen to educate people about home funerals.
Typically, a decedent who is cared for at home is buried, cremated, or otherwise disposed of within a few days. Advocacy organizations offer tips on caring for bodies at the time of death and until burial, ranging from diapering bodies to catch any fluids which may be released in the early stages of decomposition to learning how to dress bodies easily. Some advocacy organizations also offer support groups, with members who will travel to each other's homes to help them care for the dead.
Home funerals are much less expensive than conventional funerals, and many people feel that they are more intimate; dead bodies are also not inherently dangerous or unhealthy, so a home funeral does not pose a health risk except in certain circumstances. Caring for the dead at home can allow family members and friends a chance to say goodbye in a more personalized environment. Services at a home funeral can be held with the body present, or after disposition, and they may take place at home, in a church, or in a rented community hall.
If you are interested in holding a home funeral, you should do some research about the laws in your area. The best resource for information is the department of public health, which can inform you about any relevant laws, and assist you with arranging the paperwork and other materials you will need. You may also want to seek out a home funeral organization which can provide you with additional information and support.
"Undertaken With Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities" can be used by any group -- religious or secular -- over the span of five or six gatherings to learn about the legal and practical aspects of caring for a body until burial or cremation. The companion website offers additional resources for each chapter, as well as continually updated information about home funeral laws by state. The manual is free as a PDF download or can be purchased as a full color paperback for $15.