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 Hawaii.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Hawaii does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-1 (2018), which defines a “person in charge of disposition of the body” as “any person” who makes final arrangements for a deceased person’s remains.)
Hawaii 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:
(Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 531B-4.(2018))
If members of the same class disagree about the disposition of your body, a court must resolve the dispute. To avoid such an outcome, it’s wise to name a decision maker in advance.
How to appoint a representative. To make a legally binding document that appoints someone to carry out your final arrangements, you must use a form that complies with the requirements of Hawaii law, and you must sign your document in front of a notary public. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 531B-5 (2018).)
The Hawaii law contains a sample form that you can use. You are free to make up your own form, but it must contain language that is substantially similar to Hawaii’s official form.
For more information about making an advance directive in Hawaii, 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.
Embalming is almost never required. In Hawaii, a body must usually be embalmed, cremated, or buried within 30 hours after death. However, if the body is in the custody of the coroner, medical examiner, county, or county physician, it must be embalmed, cremated, or buried within 30 hours of release, or placed in refrigerated storage in a state-approved hospital. (See Hawaii Department of Health Administrative Rule § 11-22-4 (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 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. Hawaii law requires you to file the death certificate with the department of health within three days of the death. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-9 (2018).)
The deceased person’s doctor or advanced practice nurse, or the coroner’s physician must complete the medical portion of the death certificate before filing. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-9 (2018).) The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death.
Hawaii now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. You must go to the local health department and obtain a death certificate worksheet, fill in the section for personal data, and take it to the deceased person’s doctor to complete and sign.
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 local health department before handling the final disposition of remains -- for example, burying the body or having it cremated. You’ll also need the health department’s authorization if you plan to move the body from the district where the death occurred. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-23 (2018).) The death certificate must be filed with the health department before it will issue a permit to move or dispose of the remains. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-25 (2018).)
In Hawaii, bodies must be buried in cemeteries authorized by the county council. (See Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 441-2 (2018) and Hawaii Department of Health Administrative Rule § 11-22-5 (2018).) Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the local registrar.
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 burial-transit permit also authorizes cremation -- no additional permit is required. (Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 338-23 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial & Cremation Laws in Hawaii.
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.