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 Vermont.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they die. Vermont does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, 18 V.S.A. § 5207 (2018), which permits the “family of the deceased, if any, or the undertaker, or person who has charge of the body” to file the death certificate.)
Vermont law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person’s body and funeral services. This right goes first to any health care agent named by the deceased person in an advance directive, 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 Vermont.
Vermont has no embalming requirements, nor does state law specify a time frame within which you must bury or cremate the body.
If the person died of a contagious disease, you should consult a doctor. In that case, the local health commissioner will provide guidelines for final disposition. (18 V.S.A. § 5201 (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 complete and file the death certificate yourself. Vermont law requires you to file the death certificate with the state vital records office before burying the body, having it cremated, or removing it from the town where the death occurred. (18 V.S.A. § 5207 (2018).)
The deceased person’s medical provider or the medical examiner must supply the date, time, and cause of death and present the death certificate to you within 24 hours so you can complete it and file it. (18 V.S.A. §§ 5202 and 5205 (2018).)
Vermont is now using an electronic death registration system, but you can still register a death using a paper process. The deceased person’s medical provider or the medical examiner will supply a “Preliminary Report of Death” (PROD) form, or you can find a copy of it on the Vermont Department of Health website. The medical provider will fill in and sign the medical certification section, and you will then need to provide the deceased’s personal information. When completed, you can fax a copy of the PROD to the Office of Vital Records at 802-651-1787, or you can mail or deliver it to: Vital Records, Vermont Department of Health, 108 Cherry Street, P.O. Box 70, Burlington, VT 05402-0070. (Be sure to keep the original, signed PROD. You’ll need it to obtain the burial-transit permit required to move the body.)
Vital Records staff members will enter all of the information from the PROD into the electronic death registration system and produce the official death certificate. Once this is complete, you can obtain certified copies of the death certificate from the clerk of the town where the death occurred and, if different, the clerk’s office in the deceased person’s town of residence.
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. Be prepared to pay a small fee for each copy.
You can obtain a burial-transit permit after completing the PROD. Depending on the circumstances, one of the following people or agencies will issue the permit:
The burial-transit permit allows you to move the body to prepare it for final disposition. (18 V.S.A. § 5201 (2018).) For example, if someone dies outside the home, you would need this authorization before bringing the body home for care. Or, if someone dies at home, permission is necessary to move the body to a location away from home for burial or cremation.
After the burial, you must file the burial-transit permit with the clerk of the town where the burial occurs. (18 V.S.A. § 5201 (2018).)
Vermont law permits home burial. An individual is allowed to set aside private land for use as a burial ground for “the members of his or her immediate family,” as long as this use does not violate state health laws and local government rules. (18 V.S.A. § 5319 (2018).) 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 must also record a map of the location of the cemetery with the property records in the town clerk’s office. (18 V.S.A. § 5311 (2018).) Vermont requires the bottom of each burial container -- or, if no container, the body itself -- to be at least three and a half feet below the surface of the ground.
As of July 2015, Vermont also requires the boundaries of all “new or expanded” burial grounds to be:
If you need help to determine where you are permitted to situate your burial ground, or to find out if you can expand an existing one, contact your local health commissioner.
For more information about home burials in Vermont, see the Private Property Burials section of the Vermont Department of Health website.
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 Vermont, the medical examiner or assistant medical examiner must issue a permit before cremation may occur. (18 V.S.A. § 5201 (2018).)
There is also a required waiting period of 24 hours before a body can be cremated, unless waived by the department of health due to “virulent, communicable disease.” (18 V.S.A. § 5201 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Vermont.
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.