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 Colorado.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Colorado has no law requiring that a licensed funeral director be involved in making or carrying out final arrangements.
State law allows a "funeral director or person acting as such" to file the death certificate. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-110(3) (2018).) In addition, the law is clear that the funeral profession may not interfere with the rights of religious communities to "care for, prepare, and bury" the bodies of their own dead. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 12-54-108 (2018).)
Colorado law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person's body and funeral services. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:
(Colorado Statutes § 15-19-106 (2017).)
Making a declaration form. To make a valid declaration appointing someone to carry out your final wishes, you need only write down what you want, then sign and date your document. You must have the document witnessed by at least one adult or notarized. (Colorado Statutes § 15-19-104.)
Making a medical durable power of attorney. One smart way to name your representative is to make a medical durable power of attorney. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. (You must make this authority clear in your power of attorney document; otherwise your agent's decision-making power ends upon your death.) This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
For information about making a declaration and medical power of attorney, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
Note that, if you are in the military, you may name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Data provided by the Department of Defense.
Who pays for your funeral arrangements? You can either pay for your plans before you die, or you can set aside money for your survivors to use for this purpose. If you don't do either of these things, and there's not enough money in your estate to pay for funeral goods and services, your survivors must cover the costs.
Colorado law requires a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 12-54-105 (2018).) Additionally, if the body will be transported out of state by common carrier it must be either embalmed or shipped in a hermetically sealed container. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 12-54-104 (2018).)
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 must consult a local or state health official before arranging for the disposition of the body.
If you will not be using a funeral director, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Colorado law requires you to file the death certificate with the state registrar of births and deaths within five calendar days of the death and before you dispose of the remains. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-110(1)(a) (2018).)
The doctor who last attended the deceased person must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 48 hours. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-110(4) (2018).) The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death.
Colorado uses an electronic system for registering deaths. You will go to the local registrar or health department to initiate the death certificate process.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out other tasks after the death, such as getting a permit to transport the body to the place of burial or cremation. 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 will need a disposition permit before transporting the body to have it buried or cremated. You can request the disposition permit from the county registrar or coroner. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-111 (2018).) You will need a copy of the death certificate to obtain the disposition permit. After you have the permit, you may transport the body yourself.
In Colorado, burials on private property must be recorded with the county clerk within thirty days. Be prepared to supply the following information:
(Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-111 (2018).)
The county recorder or coroner should be able to supply you with a form you can use for this purpose.
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. The disposition permit, discussed above, allows you to have the body cremated.
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Colorado.
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.