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 Alaska.
Do You Need a Funeral Director?
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Alaska does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in the final arrangements. An unlicensed person is allowed to care for and handle the final disposition of a body as long as embalming is not necessary. (Alaska Statutes § 08.42.020.)
Who’s In Charge of Body Disposition and Funeral Arrangements?
Alaska law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to your spouse 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 Alaska.
Must the Body Be Embalmed?
In Alaska, there are no laws requiring a body to be embalmed. (Regulations that required embalming for bodies transported into or out of the state were repealed in 2006.) 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. Alaska law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar within three days of the death and before you dispose of the remains. (Alaska Statutes § 18.50.230(a).)
The doctor in charge of the deceased person’s care must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 24 hours of the death. (Alaska Statutes § 18.50.230(c).) If the death occurred without medical attendance, a medical examiner or the health department will provide the death certificate and information about how to fill it out. For more information, contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
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
You must obtain a burial transit permit before doing any of the following:
- burying or cremating the body
- moving the body within the state of Alaska
- transporting the body by common carrier
- shipping the body out of state
- storing or holding the body for longer than 72 hours, or
- holding a public funeral.
You will need a certified copy of the death certificate to obtain the burial transit permit.
For more information, including instructions for applying for a permit, see Alaska Health Department website.
Can You Bury a Body at Home?
In Alaska, there are no state laws that prohibit home burial. Some local governments do regulate burials, however. For example, in Anchorage, bodies must be buried in an approved cemetery. Check municipal and borough zoning rules before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery.
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 magistrate must grant approval before a body can be cremated.
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Alaska.
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 website of the National Home Funeral Alliance. 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.