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 New Hampshire.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. New Hampshire does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:66 (2018), which permits “the funeral director, next of kin, or designated agent” to file the death certificate.)
New Hampshire law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to any person appointed by the deceased person before death or the deceased person’s next of kin.
To learn the rules and the exact order of priority, see Making Funeral Arrangements in New Hampshire.
Embalming is almost never required. In New Hampshire, a body must be embalmed only if it will be “exposed to the public” -- at a wake, for example -- for longer than 24 hours. (New Hampshire Statutes § 325:40-a (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. New Hampshire law requires you to file the death certificate with the bureau of vital records and health statistics within 36 hours after receiving the body and before final disposition. (New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:66 (2018).)
The deceased person’s doctor, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant, or a medical examiner will supply the death certificate and fill in the medical portion, which contains such information as date, time, and cause of death. The medical provider will then return it to you within 36 hours after the death for completion and filing. (New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:64 (2018).)
New Hampshire now requires all death certificates to be transmitted electronically to the bureau of vital records and health statistics once you have obtained all of the required information. Funeral directors and town clerks throughout the state have access to the system. If you are not using a funeral director, contact your local clerk for more information.
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.
After a town clerk or funeral director has electronically filed the death certificate, the state will immediately issue a burial permit that allows you to move the body from the place of death for purposes of burial or cremation. (See New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:67 (2018) and New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules, Jus 2001.04 (2018).)
The burial permit must be filed with the clerk of the town in which the death occurred within six days after the burial. (New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:69 (2018).)
Burial on private property may be possible in New Hampshire. However, some cities prohibit home burial, so always check with the town clerk for any local zoning rules you must follow before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery. If you bury a body on private land, you must record the location of the burial with the deed to the property. (New Hampshire Statutes § 289:3 (2018).)
New Hampshire law states that cemeteries cannot be established within:
(See New Hampshire Statutes § 289:3 (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. In New Hampshire, the medical examiner must issue a permit before a body can be cremated. (New Hampshire Statutes § 5-C:71 (2018).) There is also a required waiting period of 48 hours before cremation may occur, unless the person died of a contagious disease. (New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules, He-P 701.12 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in New Hampshire.
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.