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 Texas.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Texas does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Texas Health & Safety Code § 193.002 (2018), which requires the "person in charge of interment or in charge of removal of a body from a registration district" to file the death certificate.)
Texas regulations require anyone who assumes custody of a body to file a "Report of Death" form with the local registrar of vital statistics within 24 hours of taking custody of the body. (25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.2 (2018).) You can download a blank Report of Death (Form VS-115) from the website of the Texas Vital Statistics Unit.
Texas 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:
(Texas Health & Safety Code § 711.002(a) (2018).)
How to appoint an agent. To name someone to carry out your final arrangements, you must use a form that complies with the requirements of Texas law. You must sign and date the form in front of a notary public. Before taking action under the document, the representative you name must sign it, too. You can find a copy of the form in the Texas statutes (Texas Health & Safety Code § 711.002 (2018)).
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.
In Texas, a body must be embalmed, refrigerated, or placed in a sealed container if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours after the death. (25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.4 (2018).) If a death occurs and no relative or other authorized person claims the body, the body must be embalmed within 24 hours. (Texas Health & Safety Code § 691.025 (2018).)
If you plan to transport the body by common carrier (such as an airplane or train), Texas regulations require the body to be embalmed or placed in:
(25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.3 (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.
Texas law requires you to file the death certificate with the local registrar within ten days after the death and before final disposition. (Texas Health & Safety Code § 193.003 (2018).)
The deceased person's doctor, the medical examiner, a justice of the peace, or, if the person was was receiving palliative care through hospice, an advance practice registered nurse must supply the date, time, and cause of death within five days after receiving the death certificate. (Texas Health & Safety Code § 193.005 (2018); Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 49.16 (2018).)
Texas now uses electronic death registration, but not all doctors and funeral directors use the system. If you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must file the Report of Death form (described above) with the local registrar, who will send the electronic record to the medical certifier for completion, if he or she is on the system. If not, the registrar will print a paper death certificate, which you must present to the medical certifier for signing. You will then need to return the death certificate to the registrar's office for filing.
If you are using a funeral director, the funeral director will file the report of death, obtain the medical certification, and file the death certificate.
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.
In Texas, a copy of the Report of Death (described above) serves as a permit to transport and bury the body within the state. (25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.2 (2018).)
If the body will be transported out of the state for final disposition, shipped by common carrier, or cremated, the local registrar must issue a burial-transit permit after you file the death certificate. (25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.2 (2018).)
There are no state laws in Texas 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.
For more information, see the family cemetery fact sheet on the Texas Cemeteries Association website.
Some crematories require 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 Texas, a burial-transit permit issued by the local registrar serves as a cremation permit. The death certificate must be filed before the registrar will issue this permit. (25 Texas Administrative Code § 181.2 (2018).)
There is a required waiting period of 48 hours before cremation may occur, unless waived in writing by a justice of the peace, a medical examiner, or court order. (Texas Health & Safety Code § 716.004 (2018).)
Texas law allows you to scatter ashes:
(Texas Health & Safety Code § 716.304 (2018).)
Cremated remains must be removed from their container before scattering, unless the container is biodegradable. (Texas Health & Safety Code § 716.304 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including more information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Texas.
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.