New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that restrict home funerals by requiring the involvement of a licensed funeral director in many aspects of final arrangements. Here is an overview of the rules that govern home funerals in New Jersey.
By law, a licensed funeral director must oversee the final disposition of a body in New Jersey. For example, state law requires that “the funeral director in charge of the funeral or disposition of the body” must file the death certificate. (See New Jersey Statutes § 26:6-6 (2018).)
Although a funeral director must carry out disposition arrangements, New Jersey 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:
(New Jersey Statutes § 45:27-22 (2018).)
Appointing a representative in your will. You can name any adult to oversee your final arrangements; the person does not have to be the executor of your will. If you use your will for this purpose, it is critical that you give a copy of your will to the person you name -- or tell them how to easily find it after your death. Don’t lock your will away in a safe deposit box or otherwise restrict your representative’s access to it. If you do, your wishes may not be located until it is too late to carry them out.
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.
Embalming is almost never required. In New Jersey, a body must be embalmed only if it will be transported by common carrier (such as a train or an airplane) and it will not reach its destination within 24 hours. (New Jersey Health Department Regulation § 8:9-1.7 (2018).)
The deceased person’s physician or the medical examiner will initiate the death certification process within 24 hours. The funeral director in charge of final disposition will supply the “burial particulars” and file the death certificate using the state’s electronic death registration system. (See New Jersey Statutes § 26:6-8.)
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out certain tasks after the death, such as transferring the deceased person’s property to inheritors. The funeral director who files the death certificate should be able to order copies for you.
After filing the death certificate, the funeral director will obtain the necessary permits for transporting the body, and for burial or cremation. In New Jersey, the transport permit is called a “burial or removal permit.” (New Jersey Statutes § 26:6-5.1 (2018).)
Burial on private property in New Jersey may be possible. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, be sure to check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws or other ordinances you must follow.
You must arrange cremation through a funeral director, who will obtain the required permits. In New Jersey, there is a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur. (New Jersey Statutes § 26:7-18.1 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in New Jersey.
For information about home funerals, you may wish to start with 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.