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 Maine.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Maine does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, 22 Maine Revised Statutes § 2846 (2018), which permits an immediate family member, spouse, domestic partner, or other person “authorized in writing by the deceased” to file the death certificate.)
Maine law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to any person 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 Maine.
Embalming is almost never required. In Maine, if a body will be transported by common carrier -- such as a train or airplane -- it must either be embalmed or placed in a container “designed to prevent the escape of fluids or offensive odors.” (Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1 (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. Maine law requires you to file the death certificate with the local town or city clerk within five days of the death and before you dispose of the remains. (See Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 5 (2018).)
Maine now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still obtain a paper death certificate from the deceased person’s doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, or a medical examiner. The medical provider will fill in the medical portion of the death certificate, which contains such information as date, time, and cause of death, and return it to you within 48 hours for completion and filing. (See 22 Maine Revised Statutes § 2842 (2018) and Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 5 (2018).)
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.
You must obtain a burial-transit permit from the local municipal clerk or subregistrar before moving the body from the place of death to prepare it for final disposition. (Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1 (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.
In order for the clerk to issue the burial-transit permit to a person other than a funeral director, the death certificate must state that a doctor or medical examiner personally examined the body after death. (22 Maine Revised Statutes § 2843 (2018).)
Furthermore, if the body will be cremated, buried at sea, or transported out of state for final disposition, Maine law also requires you to obtain a medical examiner’s release. (Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1 (2018).)
Finally, if you plan to transport the body in a private vehicle, you must enclose the body in a “suitable container made for that purpose which shall be concealed from public view.” (See Maine Health and Human Services Rule 10-146, Chapter 1 (2018).)
You can bury a body on private property, but you’ll have to establish a family cemetery first. Maine law allows a family burial ground to be up to 1/4 acre in size, and it must be enclosed by a fence or other boundary markers. You are required to record the family cemetery with the county register of deeds and the town clerk. (See 13 Maine Revised Statutes § 1142 (2018).)
For more information about establishing a family cemetery, see Maine Cemetery and Crematorium Regulations on the Maine Division of Environmental Health website.
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 medical examiner must issue a release before a body can be cremated. There is a required waiting period of 48 hours before cremation may occur, unless it is waived by the medical examiner due to “contagious or infectious disease.” (32 Maine Revised Statutes § 1405 (2018).)
Maine law permits the cremated remains to be:
(See 13 Maine Revised Statutes § 1032 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including more information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Maine.
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.