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 Maryland.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Maryland does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-201 (2018), which defines a “mortician” as a “funeral director, mortician, or other person who is authorized to make final disposition of a body,” and Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-212 (2018), which permits a “mortician” to file the death certificate.)
Maryland law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to the deceased person, if they wrote down instructions before their 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 Maryland.
Maryland has no embalming requirements, nor does state law specify a time frame within which you must dispose of the remains.
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. Maryland law requires you to file the death certificate with the department of health and mental hygiene within 72 hours of the death. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-212 (2018).)
The deceased person’s doctor, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or a medical examiner must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 24 hours. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-212 (2018).)
Maryland has begun using an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. You must obtain a blank death certificate from the institution where the person died or, if the person died at home, from the office of vital records. The medical provider or medical examiner will supply the date, time, and cause of death before returning the certificate to you for completion and filing.
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.
In Maryland, a copy of the death certificate that has been signed by a doctor or medical examiner serves as a burial-transit permit, which allows you to move the body to prepare it for final disposition. (See Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-215 (2018) and Code of Maryland Regulations 10.03.01.06 (2018).) For example, if someone dies outside the home, this authorization would be necessary to bring 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.
The cemetery manager, crematory manager, or other person in charge of final disposition must sign and file the permit with the department of health and mental hygiene within ten days after disposal of the remains. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-215 (2018).)
As of October 1, 2015, Maryland requires that bodies be buried in an established cemetery or in a family burial plot or other area allowed by a local ordinance. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 5-514 (2018).) Before establishing a family cemetery, check with the county health department and the county or town clerk for any local laws you must follow.
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. (Maryland Code, Health-General, § 4-215 (2018).) However, there is a required waiting period of 12 hours before cremation may occur. (Code of Maryland Regulations 09.34.08.07 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Maryland.
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.