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 Mississippi.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Mississippi does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Mississippi Code § 73-11-63 (2018), which permits religious groups and "families, friends or neighbors of deceased persons" to prepare and bury their dead.)
Mississippi 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:
(Mississippi Code § 73-11-58 (2018).)
Even though Mississippi's law gives you limited options, the best thing you can do is leave detailed, written instructions about the kind of final arrangements you want and name a representative to carry out your wishes. Your document will offer clear guidance to your survivors. If a dispute arises, your own directions should carry great weight.
One smart way to name someone to handle your final wishes is to make an advance health care directive. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
To make a Mississippi advance directive that appoints your health care agent to oversee your final plans, you can use Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
For more information about making an advance directive in Mississippi, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
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 Mississippi, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if:
(Mississippi Department of Health Rule 4.6.3 (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. Mississippi law requires you to file the death certificate with the office of vital records registration within five days of the death. (Mississippi Department of Health Rule 3.1.2 (2018).)
The deceased person's doctor or the medical examiner will supply the death certificate, sign it, and fill in required information such as the date, time, and cause of death. The medical certification must be completed within 72 hours after death. You can then fill in the rest of the information and file the form. (See Mississippi Code § 41-61-63 (2018) and Mississippi Department of Health Rule 4.2.1 (2018).)
A medical examiner must sign the death certificate if:
(Mississippi Code § 41-61-59 (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.
In Mississippi, a completed copy of the death certificate serves as a burial-transit permit, allowing you to move the body and arrange for burial or cremation. (Mississippi Department of Health Rule 4.6.2 (2018).)
If you plan to transport the body out of state for final disposition, the burial-transit permit must accompany it to its destination. (Mississippi Department of Health Rule 4.6.2 (2018).)
You can bury a body on private property, but you must establish a cemetery first. All cemeteries or burial grounds must be approved by the county board of supervisors or the "governing authorities of the municipality," if the land is inside a city's limits. (See Mississippi Code § 41-43-1 (2018).)
A burial ground cannot be located within 500 yards of a hospital or other medical facility. (See Mississippi Code § 41-43-1 (2018).)
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. Before cremation, the death certificate must be completed and filed with the office of vital records registration -- no additional permit is required. (Mississippi Department of Health Rule 4.7.2 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Mississippi.
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.