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 North Carolina.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. North Carolina does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, North Carolina Laws § 130A-115 (2018), which permits “the funeral director or person acting as such” to file the death certificate.)
North Carolina law requires anyone who assumes custody of a body to file a “notification of death” form with the local registrar within 24 hours of taking custody of the body. (North Carolina Laws § 130A-112 (2018).) You can obtain the form at the local registrar’s office.
North Carolina 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 in a written document, 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 North Carolina.
North Carolina has no embalming requirements, nor does state law specify a time frame within which you must dispose of the remains.
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. North Carolina law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar of vital statistics within five days after the death. (North Carolina Laws § 130A-115 (2018).)
North Carolina now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still use a paper death certificate. The deceased person’s doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or the medical examiner will supply the death certificate, sign it, and fill in the date, time, and cause of death. This must be done within three days of the death. The medical provider will then return the death certificate to you for completion and filing. (North Carolina Laws § 130A-115 (2018).)
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.
The deceased person’s doctor or the medical examiner will grant permission to move the body for final disposition. North Carolina requires you to obtain a burial-transit permit only if the death is under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner or the body will be transported out of the state. If the body is under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction, he or she must issue and sign the burial-transit permit within five days after the death. In cases where the body is not under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction and will leave the state for final disposition, the local registrar will issue the burial-transit permit. (North Carolina Laws § 130A-113 (2018).)
There are no laws in North Carolina that prohibit home burial, but you should check local zoning rules before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery. You can most likely hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.
North Carolina requires all cemeteries to be at least 300 feet from a public water supply. (15A North Carolina Administrative Code 18C.0203 (2018).) State law also requires the top of each “burial vault or other encasement” to be at least 18 inches below the surface of the ground. (North Carolina Laws § 65-77 (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 North Carolina, the medical examiner must authorize cremation or burial at sea, unless the death was from “a natural disease” and occurred in a hospital. (North Carolina Laws § 130A-388 (2018).) There is a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur, unless it is waived by the medical examiner due to communicable disease. (North Carolina Laws § 90-210.129 (2018.)
North Carolina law permits cremated remains to be:
(See North Carolina Laws § 90-210.130 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including additional information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in North Carolina.
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.