Montana Home Funeral Laws

Find out what you need to know before having a funeral in Montana.

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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.

Do You Need a Funeral Director 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 (2019), which requires “the person in charge of disposition of the dead body” to file the death certificate.)

Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Montana?

Montana 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:

  • a person you name in your disposition directions before your death
  • your surviving spouse
  • your adult child, or a majority of your children if you have more than one
  • your parents
  • your adult sibling, or a majority of your siblings if you have more than one
  • your grandparent, or a majority of your surviving grandparents
  • your guardian
  • the personal representative of your estate
  • your next of kin
  • a public official, if the disposition of your body is the responsibility of the state, or
  • any other person willing to assume the responsibility.

(Montana Code § 37-19-904 (2019).)

How to Appoint Your Funeral Agent in Montana

In Montana, you have a number of options for naming the person who will handle your final affairs. You may:

  • Sign an affidavit in front of a notary public. If you choose this option, your document must include language that is substantially similar to Montana’s official form. You can find the form in Montana Code § 37-19-904(1) (2019).
  • Make a video describing your wishes. The video must be accompanied by a written document in which two adult witnesses attest to its accuracy. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(3)(a) (2019).)
  • Prepare and sign a written document in front of two adult witnesses. Your witnesses must sign the document, too. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(3)(b) (2019).) The document can be a letter of instructions, a will, an advance health care directive, or another written form.
  • Make a prepaid funeral contract. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(1) (2019).)
  • If you are in the military, name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Data provided by the Department of Defense.

One of the smartest ways to name your representative is to complete a Montana durable power of attorney for health care. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. (You must make this authority clear in your advance directive; otherwise your agent’s decision-making power ends upon your death.) This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.

For information about making a power of attorney, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.

To make a Montana power of attorney for health care that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker & Trust software.

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.

Must the Body Be Embalmed?

Embalming is almost never required. In Montana, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated only if:

  • The body will be transported by common carrier (such as an airplane or train) and either (1) the body will be en route for more than eight hours, or (2) the transport will end more than 36 hours after the death.
  • The body will be transported in a private vehicle and cannot reach its destination within 48 hours after the death.

(Administrative Rules of Montana § 37.116.103 (2019).)

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.

Getting a Death Certificate in Montana

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 (2019).)

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 (2019).)

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.

Getting a Permit to Transport the Body

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 (2019) and Administrative Rules of Montana § 37.8.808 (2019).) 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.

Can You Bury a Body at Home?

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.

What About Cremation?

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 (2019).) There is a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur. (Montana Code § 37-19-705 (2019).)

For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Montana.

Getting Help With Home Funerals

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.

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