Our mission is to empower friends and families to care for their loved ones after death. While a motivated family can independently acquire the legal knowledge and practical skills to arrange a home funeral, the process is eased considerably when professionals in the death and dying field are able to support them. Below, we offer educational information on home funerals that can help you provide this support.
Ask an Expert
Q: Are home funerals safe? Are they legal?
A: Home funerals are safe and legal in all states. Read about the laws, about the states with restrictions (and how you can help change that), and what to do if your rights are challenged in the Law section.
Q: As a professional in the death and dying field, how can I educate my organization about the legalities of home funerals?
A: The following articles and presentations can assist you in educating your organization:
- Home Funerals HPNA – A Hospice Handout, and informational sheet on the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) website about home funerals. Compiled by Susan Oppie, RN
- Presentation to Medical Examiners by Charlene Elderkin, Threshold Care Circle.
- Hospital In-Service presentation – download this editable PowerPoint and present to your organization.
- Hospice In-Service presentation – download this editable PowerPoint and present to your organization.
Of particular interest are the policies which can be used as templates in your own organization.
- Sample Hospital Policy Release Forms and notes, a few helpful examples of currently used policy language that allows hospital staff to release a body directly to the family acting as their own funeral director. These forms are found in our book, Building Bridges along the Death Care Continuum (below) with much other helpful information.
Q: How can Hospice support home funerals?
A: Find 8 ways Hospice can support home funerals, including asking families on admission if they would like to explore funeral options rather than asking what funeral home to call.
Building Bridges Along the Death Care Continuum: Advocating for home funerals to hospices, hospitals, and care facilities by Lee Webster, Lucy Basler, Su Jin Kim. Get inside information, samples and examples of institutional policies, and tools for assisting home funeral advocates in building relationships with local hospices, hospitals, and care facilities to help pave the way for home funerals. This blueprint for change in local agencies and institutions includes in-service presentations, sample letters and policies, handouts, flyers, and more.
Restoring Families’ Rights to Choose: the call for legislation change in America – including What to Do When Families’ Rights Are Challenged and the Quick Guide to Requirements for Home Funerals in Your State by Lee Webster, Josh Slocum. Get tools to help you educate and work with policymakers considering funeral law changes that could impact families, and learn about pertinent funeral laws and the issues around them in this white paper that lays out a vision in clear language for legislative funeral reform in America that empowers families while addressing the needs of government. Plus learn how to navigate and overcome noncompliant institutional policies. What to Do When Home Funeral Rights Are Challenged contains a concise list of potential obstacles and how to anticipate and resolve issues quickly.
Planning Guide and Workbook for Home Funeral Families by Lee Webster and Donna Belk. This home funeral-specific, all-in-one planning guide and workbook ensures that your family will have all the information needed to follow through with your final wishes for a home funeral or vigil. Task lists give everyone something to do and direction on how to do it. Leave a meaningful legacy of trust by writing it all down – and then have the conversation with friends and loved ones.
Opting for a funeral at home: Challenging cultural norms “The greatest misconceptions are that we are fringe people looking to shock or challenge people’s sensibilities and go up against the established funeral industry. Neither is the case. We are looking to unveil realistic options about a topic that has been mystified for decades to people regardless of their ability to pay or their religious or spiritual leanings. We hope that the industry listens to what the public is demanding by responding with real change from within.” by Amy Wright Glenn Philly Voice 8-28-2016
A Different Way of Death: Why the Alternative Funeral Movement is Taking Hold in the United States “Lee Webster, the president of the National Home Funeral Alliance, is at the forefront of educating the public about home funerals. Along with many other home funeral guides throughout the nation with the same goals, Webster hosts presentations to people of all walks of life to introduce them to this option. Despite the popularity of conventional methods, home funerals are legal in every state.” A Different Way of Death: Why the Alternative Funeral Movement is Taking Hold in the United States by Kristen Warfield 5-12-2016
Start-Ups Take Rites From the Funeral Home to the Family Home “In the last decade, a small but growing segment of the funeral industry has begun catering to those who want a more natural, intimate end-of-life experience. Home funeral advocates and practitioners link their movement to the home birth, hospice and environmental movements.” Start-Ups Take Rites From the Funeral Home to the Family Home by Claire Martin, New York Times 1-31-2016
Fort Worth, Arlington families choose home funerals for their loved ones “Her daughter transported her father’s remains in her van. Hospice workers helped prepare the body for services. Smith said she filled out the death report, and where it asked for the funeral director’s signature, she took the advice of Jim Bates, a North Texas-based guide for the National Home Funeral Alliance, and wrote “acting” in the space and signed her own name. That alone saved her $1,600 to $1,700 in funeral home fees, she said.” Great facts, stories, quotes, photographs and videos. Fort Worth, Arlington families choose home funerals for their loved ones by Robert Cadwallader, Star-Telegram 10-11-2015
Are We Revolutionizing the Way We Die? “People are more and more wanting to do death and end of life in their own way, with values that match their own,” Unullisi says. “If you want to be more hands on and take responsibility for your loved one, [NHFA] wants everyone to know that is legal and available.” Are We Revolutionizing the Way We Die? by Katy Rank Lev, Dame Magazine 4-22-2015
At the End of Life: Death Doulas and Home Funerals “In caring for the body of the loved one for the last time, in washing the body for the last time, in having them be present with you after the death for a period of hours, it’s a very different experience than the ‘detaching from’ that we conventionally do, and we can miss out on some important emotional experiences.” At the End of Life: Death Doulas and Home Funerals by Shannon Firth, MEDPAGE TODAY 4-16-2015
A Modern Home Funeral vs. a Traditional Funeral Home “He lay under fluorescent lights in an expensive open casket, … formaldehyde scenting the air, while every person he ever knew from home and work and school and distant cousins and friends …lined up, took their one minute turn at looking down at his bearded, 33 year-old face, a small smile glued to his lips, then moved on.” by Kateyanne Unullisi, The Emerge Foundation blog 6-29-2014
Notes From a Home Funeral “It felt intensely natural to take matters into our own hands this way. American families had conducted their own funerals for hundreds of years. When had our loved ones been taken from us by the institutionalization of death?” by Rebecca Novick, Huffington Post 6-30-14
The Home Funeral of Bhim Darjee Not all home funerals are the same. Not all home funerals follow our ideal of how they should look and feel. Sometimes we are simply called to witness…The newly assimilated Christian Nepali community of Concord, NH, was expecting their first death on American soil. When the call came that Bhim had died…by Lee Webster The newly assimilated Christian Nepali community of Concord, NH, was expecting their first death on American soil. 4-2014
The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral “He looked unquestionably dead, but he looked beautiful. Harper and I received many compliments on our coffin. Later, when the wine flowed and the kitchen rang with laughter and Bob was alone again, I went in to see him. I held his cool hands and remembered how, not so long ago, those hands were tying fishing lures, strumming a banjo, splitting wood. Those days were over, and that made me sad, but it also felt OK.” by Max Alexander, Smithsonian Magazine 3-2009
Sacred Crossings – Home Funeral for Infant David and Emma honor their stillborn son Darrius with a home funeral. By Olivia Bareham 10-23-2011 (4:10)
Gabriel’s Home Funeral Gabriel Gelbart and his husband, Mitch Metzer were in the process of creating a hospice in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles, when Gabe died suddenly at 52. Sacred Crossing Guides and over 200 people from the community came together to honor Gabe with a home vigil and funeral on his beloved Anam Cara land. 10-21-2014 (4:38)
Download | Advocacy Committee co-hosts, Sarah Crews and Terry Skovronek, as they discuss legislative issues around the country and the NHFA response. We’ll unpack the role of the NHFA in regard to the Virginia bill, SB595 the Dead Body Storage bill, and how our members coalesced magnificently to educate senators on funeral rights. Sarah interviews Terry about the work of tracking legislation and challenges we anticipate on the horizon in several states. We touch on the importance of meeting with hospice and hospitals to ensure that their policies regarding releasing bodies to families is in line with the law in their respective states. Facilitator: Sarah Crews, NHFA Vice-President. 5-8-2016 (59:08)
Listen | Hear Lee Webster, NHFA President, speak with Deanna Cochran of The Journey Radio. Deanna asks Lee as many questions as she can think of regarding home funerals, while clearing up some common misconceptions along the way. 7-22-2015 (47:20)
Listen | Talking about death isn’t easy, but mortician Caitlin Doughty is trying to reform how we think about the deaths of loved ones — and prepare for our own. “My philosophy is honesty,” Doughty tells NPR’s Terry Gross. “I think that we’ve been so hidden from death in this culture for such a long time that it’s very refreshing and liberating to talk about death in an open, honest manner.” 10-8-2014 (30 min.)
Listen | In My Experience Working with the Dead, a crematorium director, a woman who specializes in at-home funerals and a student who dissects cadavers all join us to share their stories. Featuring Jerrigrace Lyons KQED 3-12-2013 (52:15)
Your Regional Network
Take a look at our Regional Network groups, and find folks near to your location who can help to support you.
Take a look at these other organizations
Funeral Consumers Alliance protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral
Funeral Ethics Organization promoting ethical dealings in all death-related transactions, and general consumer information
Green Burial Council encouraging environmentally sustainable deathcare and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas