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 Arizona.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Arizona does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in the final arrangements. In fact, an Arizona statute explicitly allows a body disposition permit (see below) to be issued to “a funeral director or other responsible person.” (Arizona Statutes § 36-326(H).)
Arizona 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 Arizona.
Arizona law requires a body to be embalmed or refrigerated only if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours. (See, for example, Section R4-12-303 of the Arizona Administrative Code.)
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.
If you will not be using a funeral director, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Arizona law requires you to file the death certificate with the local or state registrar within seven days of the death. (Arizona Statutes § 36-325(A).)
A doctor, health care provider designated by a hospital, or medical examiner must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 72 hours of the death. If the death occurs on an Indian reservation in Arizona and no medical examiner is available, the tribal law enforcement authority may complete the medical certification. (Arizona Statutes § 36-325.)
Arizona is in the process of instituting an electronic system for registering deaths. Once this system is in place, you will go to the county health department to initiate the death certificate. After you supply the necessary information, the health department will contact the doctor for the cause of death and any other necessary medical information.
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.
You must obtain a disposition-transit permit before:
You will need a certified copy of the death certificate to obtain the burial transit permit.
There are no laws in Arizona that prohibit home burial, and you are not likely to find local zoning laws on the matter. That said, it’s always a good idea to check zoning rules before establishing a family cemetery. You may be able to create a home cemetery if you live in a rural area.
Note that, by law, you must record the location of the cemetery with the county recorders office before burial. The local or state registrar is not supposed to issue a disposition-transit permit for interment in a cemetery unless the cemetery is on file with the county recorder, or located on federal or tribal land. (Arizona Statutes § 36-326(I).)
Unfortunately, in Arizona, crematories may not enter into contracts with members of the public. This means you will have to go through a funeral director to arrange cremation. A medical examiner must grant approval before a body can be cremated.
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Arizona.
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.