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 Rhode Island.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Rhode Island does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Rhode Island General Laws § 23-3-16 (2018), which permits the "funeral director, his or her duly authorized agent, or person acting as agent" to file the death certificate.)
Rhode Island 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:
(Rhode Island General Laws § 5-33.2-24 (2018).)
Appointing a funeral planning agent. To make a legally valid document naming someone to carry out your final wishes, you must write down what you want, then date and sign your document in front of a notary public. (Rhode Island General Laws § 5-33.3-4 (2018).) You can download Rhode Island's official appointment form from the Rhode Island Department of Health. Or, if you prefer, you can make up your own form, as long as the language you use is similar to the statutory form.
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. Rhode Island regulations require a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if disposition will not occur within 48 hours after death. (Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Embalmers, Funeral Directors and Funeral Service Establishments § 13.2 (2018).)
Furthermore, a body must be embalmed if it will be transported by common carrier, such as an airplane or train. If embalming is not possible, the body must be placed in a "strong, sealed outer case." (Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Embalmers, Funeral Directors and Funeral Service Establishments § 13.12 (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. Rhode Island law requires you to file the death certificate with the state registrar of vital records within seven days after the death and before the body is removed from the state. (Rhode Island General Laws § 23-3-16 (2018).)
The deceased person's doctor or, if the death occurred in a hospital, a hospital medical officer will "immediately" supply the death certificate and fill in the date, time, and cause of death. If the death occurred without medical attendance, the medical examiner will furnish and sign the death certificate within 48 hours. You will then need to fill in the rest of the required information and file the death certificate. (Rhode Island General Laws § 23-3-16 (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 funeral director or person acting as the funeral director must prepare a burial-transit permit within seven days after the death and before final disposition. The burial-transit permit must be attached to the death certificate and signed by the medical provider who signed the death certificate. This permit will allow you to move the body for purposes of burial or cremation. (Rhode Island General Laws § 23-3-18 (2018).)
In Rhode Island, city or town councils have the authority to regulate burials and cemeteries. (Rhode Island General Laws § 23-18-10 (2018).) Before burying a body on private property or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the city or town clerk for any zoning laws you must follow.
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 Rhode Island, the medical examiner must issue a permit before cremation can occur. There is also a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur, unless the person died of a "contagious or infectious disease." (Rhode Island General Laws § 23-3-18 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Rhode Island.
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.
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