Kentucky Funeral Laws

Learn the rules that govern funerals in Kentucky.

Updated by , Attorney (George Mason University Law School)

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 doesn't require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024), which permits the "funeral director, or person acting as such," to file the death certificate.)

Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Kentucky?

Kentucky 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:

  • a designee you name before your death in a written funeral planning declaration
  • your spouse
  • your adult child, or a majority of your adult children if you have more than one
  • your parents
  • your adult grandchild, or a majority of your adult grandchildren if you have more than one
  • your adult sibling, or a majority of your adult siblings if you have more than one
  • your next of kin
  • any person who is willing and able to take the job
  • a funeral home that has a prepaid plan for you
  • your guardian or conservator, if one was appointed for you, or
  • the district court where you live or where the funeral home or crematory is located.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 367.93117 (2024).)

How to appoint a designee To name someone to carry out your funeral arrangements (the "designee"), you must use a written funeral planning declaration. You must sign and date the declaration with two adult witnesses present who also need to sign the declaration. Your designee or a person signing on your behalf—if you are unable to sign—can't be witnesses. You also must have the document notarized by a notary public. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 367.93103 (2024).)

Who can serve as your designee. With limited exceptions, any adult may act as your designee. The following individuals may not serve if they have a direct professional relationship with you, unless you are related by blood, marriage, or adoption:

  • a funeral director
  • a cemetery service, or
  • an employee of a funeral director or cemetery service.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 367.93103 (2024).)

Where to get a declaration form. You can download a free Kentucky funeral planning declaration form from the state's website.

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.

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 won't be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. 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.

Kentucky law requires you to present the death certificate to the deceased person's attending physician, advanced practice registered nurse, or physician assistant within five days of the death. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024).)

If the death occurred more than 36 hours after the person last received care from a physician, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant, dentist, or chiropractor, you must report the death to the coroner. The coroner will supply the death certificate. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024).)

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. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024).)

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 might 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. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024).)

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. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.076 (2024).)

While the provisional death certificate gives you permission to transport and bury the body, it doesn't authorize cremation. You must obtain an additional permit from the coroner before transporting the body to a crematory and before cremation may occur. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.076; 213.081 (2024).)

Can You Bury a Body at Home in Kentucky?

There are no state laws in Kentucky prohibiting home burial, but you should ask your country or town clerk about local zoning rules before burying a body on private land.

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. Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.076; 213.081 (2024).)

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.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 367.97524 (2024).)

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 staunchest 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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