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 Missouri.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Missouri does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023), which permits "the funeral director or person in charge of final disposition of the dead body" to file the death certificate.)
Missouri 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:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 194.119 (2023).)
If there is more than one member of a class -- for example, you have many children or several siblings -- a funeral director may rely on the instructions of any one of them, provided the director has no knowledge that another member of the class objects. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 194.119 (2023).)
Making a durable power of attorney for health care. To avoid any confusion about who should carry out your final plans, it's best to make a durable power of attorney for health care and give your attorney-in-fact explicit permission to carry out your wishes.
For more information about making a durable power of attorney for health care in Missouri, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make a Missouri durable power of attorney for health care that appoints your attorney-in-fact 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 Missouri, if you are using a funeral director, the body must be embalmed, refrigerated, or placed in a hermetically sealed casket if disposition will not occur within 24 hours. (Mo. Code Reg. tit. 20, § 2120-2.070 (2023).).
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 you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Missouri law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar within five days of the death and before final disposition. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)
The deceased person's doctor, another approved medical provider, or a medical examiner must complete the medical portion of the death certificate within 72 hours. The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)
Missouri now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. You can obtain a blank death certificate and guidance from the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records by calling 573-751-6387.
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.
You must obtain permission from a physician, medical examiner, or coroner before removing the body from the place of death to prepare it for final disposition. 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. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145 (2023).)
Missouri law permits the establishment of family burial grounds of less than one acre in size. The cemetery must be deeded in trust to the county commission, and you must record the deed with the county clerk within 60 days. (Mo. Re. Stat. § 214.090 (2023).)
Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning rules 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 Missouri, a completed and filed death certificate authorizes final dispostion of the body, including cremation—no additional permit is required. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 193.145; Mo. Code Reg. tit.19, § 10-10.100 (2023).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Missouri.
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.