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 Montana.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Montana does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Montana Code § 50-15-403 (2018), which requires “the person in charge of disposition of the dead body” to file the death certificate.)
Montana 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 Montana.
Embalming is almost never required. In Montana, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated only if:
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. Montana law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar of vital records within ten days of the death. (Administrative Rules of Montana § 37.8.801 (2018).)
Montana now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still obtain a paper death certificate from the local registrar of vital records or the clerk and recorder’s office. You must present the death certificate to the deceased person’s doctor, advanced practice registered nurse, or the coroner within three working days after the death. The medical provider will fill in the medical portion of the death certificate, which contains such information as date, time, and cause of death, and return it to you within 48 hours for completion and filing. (See Administrative Rules of Montana § 37.8.801 (2018).)
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.
Montana law allows you to move a body from the place of death if you obtain a signed “dead body removal authorization” form from a doctor, “physician’s designee,” advanced practice nurse, or coroner within 24 hours. (See Montana Code § 50-15-405 (2018) and Administrative Rules of Montana § 37.8.808 (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, you’ll need the form to move the body to a location away from home for burial or cremation.
There are no state laws in Montana prohibiting home burial, but local governments may have rules governing private burials. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws you must follow.
For more information, see the article, Private Land Burial Laws Minimal in Montana, from the Missoulian.
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 Montana, a dead body removal authorization form that has been signed by the coroner also authorizes cremation -- no additional permit is necessary. (Montana Code § 50-15-405 (2018).) There is a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur. (Montana Code § 37-19-705 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Montana.
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.