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 Minnesota.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Minnesota does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Minnesota Statutes § 149A.01 (2019), which excludes "noncompensated persons" and those adhering to "recognized customs or rites of any culture or recognized religion" from the laws and regulations governing funeral directors.)
Minnesota 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:
(Minnesota Statutes § 149A.80, Subd. 2 (2019).)
If you and your relative were estranged. If there is only one member of a class described above, and you were estranged from that person, the right passes to the next person on the list. (Minnesota Statutes § 149A.80, Subd. 3 (2019).)
If your relatives disagree. If there is more than one member of a class described above -- for example, if you have several children or many siblings -- decisions must be made by a majority of them. If they cannot agree, they will have to go to court to resolve their dispute. (Minnesota Statutes § 149A.80, Subd. 5. (2019)) To avoid such an outcome, it's best to name a representative in advance.
Appointing your decision-maker. To name someone to carry out your final wishes, you need only write down what you want in a signed, dated document. If you make more than one document naming a representative, a document that is witnessed or notarized will take precedence over one that is not. (Minnesota Statutes § 149A.80, Subd. 2(1) (2019).)
You can use any form you like, but one smart method is to make a Minnesota health care directive. In your directive, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements after your death. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
For information about making a health care directive in Minnesota, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make a Minnesota health care directive that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
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.
In Minnesota, a body must be embalmed, refrigerated, or packed in dry ice if:
(See Minnesota Statues § 149A.91 (2019).)
Refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. Minnesota law states that a body cannot be held in refrigeration longer than six days -- or packed in dry ice for longer than four days -- from the time it is released from the place of death or from the coroner. (Minnesota Statues § 149A.91 (2019).)
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 you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Minnesota law requires you to file the death certificate with the state registrar of vital records within five days of the death and before final disposition. (Minnesota Statutes § 144.221 (2019).)
Minnesota now uses an electronic death registration system for all deaths occurring in the state. Most doctors, medical examiners, and funeral directors have access to the system, and can enter all of the required information for you. If you are working with someone who is not on the system, you will need to supply the demographic information in a documentation of death worksheet, have the doctor or medical examiner certify the cause of death, and file the form with the state registrar of vital records. You can find a copy of the documentation of death worksheet on the Minnesota Department of Health website.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to take care of 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 Minnesota, you must obtain a certificate of removal from the department of health before moving the body from the place of death and before final disposition. (Minnesota Statutes §§ 149A.90 and 149A.93.) 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. You can download the certificate of removal form from the Minnesota Department of Health website.
When the body is being transported, it must be encased in a container that:
If a vehicle is used to transport multiple bodies at once, each body or container must be secured and the vehicle designed so that one body or container does not rest on top of another. (See Minnesota Statutes § 149A.93 (2019).)
In addition to the certificate of removal, you will need to obtain a disposition permit before burial, entombment, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis. (See the discussion below and Minnesota Statutes § 149A.93 (2019).) Minnesota law requires you to file the disposition permit with the person in charge of the place of final disposition, such as a crematory manager or the sexton of a cemetery. (Minnesota Statutes § 149A.94 (2018).) The death certificate must be completed and filed before the registrar of vital records will issue a disposition permit.
For more information about obtaining these permits and other issues surrounding the final disposition of a body in Minnesota, see the Choices manual, published by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Minnesota law allows "any private person and any religious corporation" to establish a cemetery on their own private property. To do so, you must have the land surveyed and the plat recorded with the deed in the county recorder's office. (Minnesota Statutes § 307.01 (2019).) Before burying a body on private land, you should check with the county or town clerk for any zoning 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. In Minnesota, the coroner or medical examiner must grant permission before a body can be cremated, but there are no laws restricting the disposition of the ashes. (Minnesota Statutes § 390.152 (2019).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Minnesota.
Minnesota is one of the very few states with alkaline hydrolysis facilities that are available to the public. Sometimes referred to as "green cremation" or "bio-cremation," alkaline hydrolysis uses water, an alkali solution, pressure, and heat to speed up the body's decomposition, resulting in a small amount of liquid separated from bone fragments that resemble cremated remains.
By law, as with flame-based cremation, a coroner or medical examiner must provide authorization before a body can undergo alkaline hydrolysis. (Minnesota Statutes § 149A.941 (2019).)
To learn more about alkaline hydrolysis, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Minnesota
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.