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 Florida.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Florida does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Florida Statutes § 382.008(2)(a) (2019), which states that in the absence of a funeral director, a person in attendance at or after the death may file the death certificate.)
Florida 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:
(Florida Statutes § 497.005(39) (2019).)
Appointing your representative in a designation of health care surrogate. One smart way to name the person who will carry out your final arrangements is to complete a Florida designation of health care surrogate. In your document, you can give your surrogate explicit power to carry out your final arrangements after you die. (You must make this authority clear in your health care document; otherwise your surrogate'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 designation of health care surrogate, see Florida Living Wills and Designations of Health Care Surrogates.
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.
Embalming is almost never required. In Florida, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated only if disposition does not occur within 24 hours. (Florida Statutes § 497.386 (2019).)
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 to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Florida law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar within five days of the death and before final disposition. (Florida Statutes § 382.008 (2019).)
The deceased person's doctor or the medical examiner must supply the date, time, and cause of death and present the death certificate to you within 72 hours of receiving it so that you can complete it and file it on time. (Florida Statutes § 382.008 (2019).) The medical certification contains information such as the date, time, and cause of death.
Florida now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still file a paper death certificate. You can get the blank death certificate and guidance from your local office of vital statistics.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out certain 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 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.
After the death certificate has been filed, the county chief deputy registrar will issue a burial-transit permit that allows you to move the body for purposes of burial or cremation. You must obtain this permit within five days after death and before final disposition. (Florida Statutes § 382.006 (2019).)
While being transported, the body must be placed in a container that will "prevent the seepage of fluids and escape of offensive odors." (Florida Statutes § 497.386 (2019).)
There are no laws in Florida that prohibit home burial. Florida permits families to establish cemeteries if they are smaller than two acres and do not sell burial spaces or merchandise. (Florida Statutes § 497.260 (2019).) Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, be sure to check local zoning rules.
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 from the family. In Florida, a medical examiner must authorize cremation by signing the burial-transit permit. Usually, there is a required waiting period of 48 hours before cremation may occur. (Florida Statutes § 872.03 (2019).)
For more information about cremation, including more information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Florida.
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 the 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.