If you are interested in holding a home funeral for a loved one who has died, you’ll need to be aware of the laws that apply. Here is an overview of the rules that govern home funerals in Alabama.
Do You Need a Funeral Director?
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Alabama does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in the final arrangements. (See, for example, Alabama Code § 22-9A-14(b), which allows “the funeral director or person acting as the funeral director” to file the death certificate.)
Who’s In Charge of Body Disposition and Funeral Arrangements?
Alabama law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to a person named by the deceased person in a written affidavit made before death, and after that to family members in an established order.
To learn the rules and the exact order of priority, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Alabama.
Must the Body Be Embalmed?
Embalming is almost never required. Alabama’s only law on the subject states that a body must be embalmed if it is to be transported across state lines. (Alabama Code § 22-19-2.)
Refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. There are resources available to help you learn to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation. The website of the National Home Funeral Alliance is a good place to start.
If the person died of a contagious disease, you should consult a doctor.
Getting a Death Certificate
If you will not be using a funeral director, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Alabama law requires you to file the death certificate with the local office of vital statistics within five days of the death and before you dispose of the remains. (Alabama Code § 22-9A-14(a).)
If the death occurs in a hospital or other medical facility, the staff will have the attending physician sign the form and fill in required information such as the date, time, and cause of death. You can then fill in the rest of the information and file the form. If the death occurs at home, you can obtain a blank death certificate form and guidance from the Alabama Office of Vital Statistics by calling 334-206-2714.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out other tasks after the death, such as arranging for the disposition of the body and transferring the deceased person’s property to inheritors. You may be able to file the death certificate and get certified copies on the same day. If not, you will have to make a return trip to pick up the copies. Be prepared to pay a small fee for each copy.
Getting a Permit to Transport the Body
Unlike many other states, you do not need a special permit to move a body in Alabama. You do, however, need permission from a doctor, county medical examiner, state medical examiner, or coroner if you want to bring a body home from the place of death to prepare it for final disposition. (See Alabama Code § 22-9A-16(b).)
A completed copy of the death certificate allows you to arrange for final disposition of the body, though additional permissions will be necessary if the body will be cremated or buried at sea. (Alabama Code § 22-9A-16(a).)
Are Home Burials Legal in Alabama?
There are no laws in Alabama that prohibit home burial, but you should check local zoning rules before establishing a family cemetery. You can most likely hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.
What About Cremation?
Some crematories require that you use a funeral director to arrange cremation. If you don’t want to use a funeral director, make sure the crematory is willing to accept the body directly from the family. A medical examiner or coroner must grant approval before a body can be cremated.
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Alabama.
Getting Help With Home Funerals
Even the most staunch home funeral advocates know that learning to care for one’s own dead can be difficult, especially during a time of grief. If you need help, there are people available to coach you through this process. You can find local guides, consultants, and other resources by visiting the National Home Funeral Alliance website. The book Final Rights, by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson, also offers extensive information on the subject.
For more information about final arrangements and documenting your final wishes in advance, see Nolo’s section on Getting Your Affairs in Order.