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, Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145 (2018), 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 goes first to any attorney-in-fact 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 Missouri.
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. (20 Missouri Code of State Regulations 2120-2.070 (2018).).
However, if you choose not to involve a funeral director, embalming is required in only a few circumstances, including the following:
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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145 (2018).)
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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145 (2018).)The medical certification contains such information as the date, time, and cause of death.
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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.145 (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.
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. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 214.090 (2018).)
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 cremation -- no additional permit is required. (Missouri Revised Statutes § 193.175 (2018).)
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.