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 Utah.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Utah does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Utah Code § 26-2-13 (2018), which permits the "funeral service director or, if a funeral service director is not retained, a dispositioner" to file the death certificate.)
Utah defines a "dispositioner" as:
For more information, see Utah Code § 26-2-2 (2018) and the article Making Funeral Arrangements in Utah.
Utah 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:
(Utah Code § 58-9-602 (2018).)
If there are two or more members of a class described above -- for example, if you have several adult children or many siblings -- and a majority of them cannot agree, a probate court must resolve their dispute. (Utah Code § 58-9-605 (2018).) To avoid such an outcome, it's wise to name a representative in advance.
How to appoint a representative to carry out your final wishes. To name someone to oversee your arrangements, you must write down what you want, then sign and date your form in front of a notary public or two witnesses. (Utah Code § 58-9-601(1) (2018).)
Appointing a representative in an advance directive. One smart way to name a representative to handle your funeral plans is to make a Utah advance health care directive. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. (You must make this authority clear in your advance directive; otherwise your agent's decision-making power ends upon your death.) This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
Ordinarily, Utah requires that only one witness sign an advance directive for health care, but if you give your agent power to make your funeral arrangements, you should ask two qualified adults to witness your document. Taking this extra step ensures that your document meets the requirements described above.
For information about making an advance directive, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make a Utah advance directive 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. In Utah, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours after the death. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-3 (2018).)
If you wish to transport the body by common carrier (such as a train or airplane), it must be embalmed and placed in a casket enclosed in a shipping case or a metal container designed for shipping a body. If the body "cannot be embalmed or is in a state of decomposition," it must be placed in:
(Utah Administrative Code R436-8-2 (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. Utah law requires you to file the death certificate with the office of vital records within five days after the death and before final disposition or removal from the district in which the death occurred. (Utah Code § 26-2-13 (2018).)
The deceased person's doctor or the medical examiner must supply the date, time, and cause of death and present the death certificate to you within 72 hours after the death for completion and filing. (Utah Code § 26-2-13 (2018).)
Utah now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still file the death certificate yourself. You can obtain information on how to begin the death registration process by contacting the local health department or the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics at 801-538-6105. You can also find instructions on the Office of Vital Records and Statistics website.
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 local registrar must issue a burial-transit permit before you move the body for final disposition. (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-1 (2018).) For example, if someone dies outside the home, you would need this authorization to bring the body home for care. Or, if someone dies at home, this permission is necessary to move the body to a location away from home for burial or cremation.
Unless a funeral director moves the body, it must be "encased in a container (such as a plastic bag) which ensures against seepage of fluid and the escape of odors." (Utah Administrative Code R436-8-2 (2018).)
There are no state laws in Utah 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.
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 Utah, the medical examiner must review the death record and release the body for cremation. Once this is complete, the local registrar will issue the burial-transit permit that authorizes cremation. (Utah Code §§ 26-4-29, 58-9-607, and 58-9-610 (2018).)
The death certificate must be filed before cremation may occur. (Utah Code § 58-9-610 (2018).)
Utah law permits cremated remains to be:
(Utah Code § 58-9-611 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including additional details on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Utah.
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.