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 Dakota.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. North Dakota does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-02 (2018), which permits “the person charged with the duty of final disposition of the body of a deceased person” to take custody of the remains.)
North Dakota law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to the deceased person’s spouse, 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 Dakota.
In North Dakota, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if it will be transported and cannot reach its destination within 48 hours. If the body cannot reach its destination within 72 hours, it must be embalmed. (North Dakota Administrative Code § 33-06-15-01 (2018).)
In addition, embalming is required if the death was due to anthrax, cholera, meningococcal meningitis, plague, smallpox, or tuberculosis. (North Dakota Administrative Code § 33-06-15-01 (2018).)
North Dakota law states that final disposition must occur within eight days of the death. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-04 (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 you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must take responsibility for filing the death certificate. North Dakota law requires you to file basic facts about the death with the state registrar within three days of assuming custody of the body. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-02.1-19 (2018).) You should do this using the worksheet available on the North Dakota Department of Health website. A health care provider or the coroner should then complete and file the medical portion of the death certificate electronically, within ten days.
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.
When the death certificate has been electronically filed, the state will immediately issue a final disposition-transit permit that allows you to move the body to prepare it for final disposition or transport it out of the state. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-02.1-21 (2018).)
After burial or cremation, the final disposition-transit permit must be filed with the recorder of the county in which disposition occurred. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-02.1-21 (2018).)
North Dakota law allows bodies to be buried in a registered cemetery or “in some other place requested by the relatives and friends of the deceased” with permission from the state department of health. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-20 (2018).) 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.
If you wish to establish a family cemetery, you must have the land surveyed and record the plat with the deed in the county recorder’s office. You will then need to register the cemetery with the state department of health. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-21 (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 Dakota, the final disposition-transit permit also authorizes cremation -- no additional permit is necessary. (North Dakota Century Code §§ 23-02.1-01 and 23-02.1-21 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in North Dakota.
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.