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 South Carolina.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. South Carolina does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, South Carolina Code § 44-63-74 (2018), which exempts an "individual who acts, without compensation, as a funeral director on behalf of a deceased family member or friend" from the requirement to file the death certificate electronically.)
South Carolina 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:
(South Carolina Code § § 32-8-315 and 320 (2018).)
If there is more than one member of a class listed above – for example if you have more than one child or many siblings -- any member of that class may authorize cremation unless that person knows that another member of the class objects. If there is an objection, the decision must be made by a majority of the members of a class who are "reasonably available." (South Carolina Code § 32-8-320(B) (2018).) To avoid delays and disputes, it is wise to name your agent in advance.
How to appoint an agent. To make a valid document naming someone to carry out your final arrangements, write down what you want, then sign and date your document in front of a notary public. Even though South Carolina law specifically addresses only decisions about cremation, you should follow these steps if you want your body to be cremated or buried -- or even if you prefer to leave that decision in the hands of your agent.
Naming your agent in a health care power of attorney. One smart way to appoint a representative is to complete a South Carolina health care power of attorney naming a health care agent. In your document, you can give your agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
You must make your agent's post-death authority clear in your power of attorney document; otherwise your agent's decision-making power ends when you die. Also, be sure to have your power of attorney notarized to satisfy the requirements above.
For information about making a health care power of attorney, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make a South Carolina health care power of attorney that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
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. South 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. South Carolina regulations require you to file the death certificate with the Bureau of Vital Statistics within five days after the death. (South Carolina Code of Regulations Rule 61-19 § 701 (2018).)
The deceased person's doctor, the coroner, or the medical examiner must supply the date, time, and cause of death and present the death certificate to you within 48 hours for completion and filing. (South Carolina Code of Regulations Rule 61-19 § 701 (2018).)
South Carolina now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still file a paper death certificate. Blank death certificates and instructions are available at the local vital records office, but you must obtain a burial-transit permit (described below) first. For more information, contact the South Carolina Vital Records Office at 803-898-3630.
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 the burial-removal-transit permit within 48 hours of the death and before final disposition or removal of the body from the state. If the death occurred in a hospital, nursing home, or other institution, a county subregistrar located at the facility will issue the burial-removal-transit permit; if the death occurred outside of an institution, you can obtain the burial-removal-transit permit from the coroner. (See South Carolina Code § 44-63-40 (2018) and South Carolina Code of Regulations Rule 61-19 § 901 (2018).)
There are no state laws in South Carolina prohibiting home burial, but local governments may have rules governing private burials. Before burying a body on private property or establishing a family cemetery, you should check with the county or town clerk for any zoning laws you must follow. You can most likely hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.
South Carolina law requires the top of each burial container to be at least 10 inches below the surface of the ground. (South Carolina Code § 40-8-130 (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 South Carolina, the coroner or medical examiner must issue a permit before cremation can occur. When requesting the cremation permit, you will need to present a certified copy of the death certificate or an abstract of information from a filed death certificate available on the state's electronic vital records system. (South Carolina Code §§ 17-5-600 and 32-8-325 (2018).)
There is a required waiting period of 24 hours before cremation may occur, unless it is waived by the deceased person's doctor, the medical examiner, or the coroner due to "infectious or dangerous disease." (South Carolina Code § 32-8-340 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in South 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.