New York 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 York.
By law, a licensed funeral director must oversee the final disposition of a body in New York. For example, local registrars will only issue a burial or removal permit to a "funeral director or undertaker." (See New York Public Health Law § 4140 (2018).)
Although a funeral director must carry out disposition arrangements, New York 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:
(N.Y. Public Health Law § 4201(2).)
If members of the same class disagree about the disposition of your body, a court must resolve the dispute. (N.Y. Public Health Law § 4201(8).) To avoid such an outcome, it's wise to name a decision maker in advance.
Appointing your decision maker. To name someone to carry out your final wishes, you need only write down what you want, then date and sign the document in front of two adult witnesses. To do this, you may use the form provided in N.Y. Public Health Law § 4201(3) or you may create your own form.
Making a health care proxy. One smart way to name a representative to handle your funeral plans is to make a New York health care proxy. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
For information about making a health care proxy, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make a New York health care proxy that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
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.
New York has no embalming requirements, but bodies must be buried or cremated "within a reasonable time after death." (New York Public Health Law § 4200 (2018).)
The funeral director must file the death certificate with the local registrar within 72 hours of the death and prior to burial or cremation. (See New York Public Health Law §§ 4140 and 4142 (2018).)
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 York, the transport permit is called a "burial or removal permit." (New York Public Health Law § 4140 (2018).)
Burial on private property in New York may be possible. In New York, all burials must be supervised by a licensed funeral director, so make sure you find a funeral director who is willing to help with your burial plans. Before conducting a home burial, be sure to check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws or other ordinances you must follow.
New York law permits any person to dedicate land for use as a family cemetery, as long as it does not exceed three acres in size and is not located within 300 feet of a dwelling. This land must be registered with the county clerk. (See New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law § 1401 (2018).)
For more information about cemeteries in New York, see the New York State Division of Cemeteries FAQ.
You must arrange cremation through a funeral director, who will obtain the required permits. If the crematory does not have a licensed funeral director on its staff, you must arrange for a funeral director to be present to receive the body when it is delivered. (New York Public Health Law § 4145 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in New York.
If you want to find out more about home funerals, you can begin 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.