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Kentucky Funeral Laws

Learn the rules that govern funerals in Kentucky.

Updated By , Attorney

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 Kentucky.

Do You Need a Funeral Director in Kentucky?

In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Kentucky does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Kentucky Revised Statutes § 213.076 (2018), which permits the "funeral director, or person acting as such," to file the death certificate.)

Who's In Charge of Body Disposition and Funeral Arrangements?

Kentucky law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person's body and funeral services. This right goes first to any health care agent named by the deceased person before death, 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 Kentucky.

Must the Body Be Embalmed?

Kentucky 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.

Getting a Death Certificate

If you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Kentucky law requires you to present the death certificate to the physician, dentist, or chiropractor in charge of the deceased person's care within five days of the death. If the death occurred more than 36 hours after the person last received care from a physician, dentist, or chiropractor, you must report the death to the coroner. The coroner will supply the death certificate. (Kentucky Revised Statutes § 213.076 (2018).)

The medical provider or coroner must complete the medical portion of the death certificate, which contains such information as date, time, and cause of death, and return it to you within five working days. You are then required to file the death certificate with the office of vital statistics. (Kentucky Revised Statutes § 213.076 (2018).)

Kentucky now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. You must obtain a blank death certificate from the local health department or the coroner, fill in the section for personal data, and take it to the deceased person's doctor or the coroner 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.

Getting a Permit to Transport the Body

In Kentucky, a provisional death certificate serves as a permit to transport and bury a body. If the death occurred in a facility (such as a nursing home or hospital), the institution will issue the provisional death certificate before releasing the body; if the person died at home, you or a funeral director will need to obtain the provisional death certificate from the coroner or county health department. You must then file the form with the local registrar of vital statistics before moving the body and before burial. (See Kentucky Revised Statutes § 213.076 (2018).)

After burial, you must sign, date, fill in the place and manner of final disposition, and re-file the provisional death certificate with the local registrar. This must be done within five days after disposal of the remains. (See Kentucky Revised Statutes § 213.076 (2018).)

While the provisional death certificate gives you permission to transport and bury the body, it does not authorize cremation. You must obtain an additional permit from the coroner before transporting the body to a crematory and before cremation may occur. (Kentucky Revised Statutes §§ 213.076 and 213.081 (2018).)

Can You Bury a Body at Home in Kentucky?

There are no state laws in Kentucky prohibiting home burial, but you should check local zoning rules before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery. You can most likely hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.

What About Cremation?

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 local coroner must issue a permit before moving the body to a crematory and before cremation. You're then required to file the permit with the office of vital statistics "immediately" after cremation occurs. (Kentucky Revised Statutes §§ 213.076 and 213.081 (2018).)

Kentucky law permits the cremated remains to be disposed of by:

  • placing them in a grave, crypt, or niche,
  • scattering them in a legally-defined "scattering area," such as a designated section of a cemetery, or
  • scattering them in "any manner" on a consenting owner's private property.

(See Kentucky Revised Statutes § 367.97524 (2018).)

For more information about cremation, including more information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Kentucky.

Getting Help With Home Funerals

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.

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