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 Georgia.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Georgia does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Georgia Code § 31-10-15 (2018), which allows the "funeral director or person acting as such" to file the death certificate.)
Georgia 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:
(Georgia Code § 31-21-7 (2018).)
Making an advance directive for health care. To give the job to someone you choose, it's best to make a Georgia advance directive for health care granting your health care agent explicit permission to carry out your final wishes. This option allows you to prepare a single document ensuring that both your health care decisions and your final arrangements are in the hands of the person you want.
For more information about making an advance directive in Georgia, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
If you decide not to make an advance directive and instead prepare a written affidavit naming your representative, the document must include special language required by Georgia law. You must also date the document and sign it in front of a notary public. (To read the law and find the necessary language, see Georgia Code § 31-21-7(b)(2)(B)(2018).)
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.
Georgia has no embalming requirements, and 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. Georgia law requires you to file the death certificate with the county vital records registrar within 72 hours of the death. (Georgia Code § 31-10-15 (2018).)
The doctor who last attended to the deceased person or the medical examiner must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 72 hours and return it to you or your funeral director, if you're using one. (Georgia Code § 31-10-15 (2018).) The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death.
Georgia now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. For more information on how to obtain and complete a death certificate, contact the Georgia Department of Public Health.
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 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 written permission from the medical examiner or the doctor who signs the death certificate before moving the body from the place of death to prepare it for final disposition. (Georgia Administrative Code § 511-1-3-.22 (2018).) For example, if someone dies outside the home, you would need this authorization before bringing the body home for care. Or, if someone dies at home, permission is necessary to move the body to a location away from home for burial or cremation.
If the body will be cremated or you will transport it out of state for final disposition, Georgia law also requires you to obtain what's called a "final disposition permit." (Georgia Code § 31-10-20 (2018).) In addition, some local authorities require a final disposition permit for in-state burials. (Georgia Code § 31-10-20 (2018).) Check your county and city ordinances to see if you need a permit.
There are no state laws in Georgia prohibiting home burial, but local governments may have rules governing private burials. Bibb County, for example, requires all human remains to be buried in authorized cemeteries inside "leak-proof" caskets or vaults. (See the Macon-Bibb County Code of Ordinances §§ 8-29, 8-30.) Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check county and city ordinances for any burial restrictions.
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 county vital records registrar must issue a final disposition permit before cremation. (Georgia Code § 31-10-20 (2018).)
Georgia statutes specifically permit cremated remains to be buried at sea within 50 days of cremation, as long as you choose a spot no less than three miles from the shoreline and remove the remains from their container. You must also file a "verified statement" with the local registrar containing the deceased person's name, time and place of death, and the location of the burial at sea. (Georgia Code § 31-21-4 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including additional details about scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Georgia.
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.