Home funerals: Old tradition becomes current trend
Some families choose at-home funeral tradition over modern, traditional funerals
By Dana Klosner
The present age of more choices and personalization hasn’t only affected what you buy online. It has also revived the old tradition of home funerals as a current funeral planning trend.
When you learn exactly what is involved in an at-home funeral, it can seem unusual compared to what you know about modern, traditional funerals. But people have been taking care of their deceased loved ones for thousands of years.
“To us, it’s reclaiming an old tradition that has been around for millennia,” said Peg Lorenz, home funeral guide and spokesperson for the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA), an organization that teaches families how to care for their deceased relatives.
What is an at-home funeral?
For families who choose home funerals, they’re a way to honor the deceased in a natural setting and give those grieving time to visit their loved one in a personal, private atmosphere, Lorenz said.
Family and friends are invited to the home to see a natural body in a natural state, Lorenz said. No embalming and make-up are used. Guests visit their loved one in a room often filled with candles, incense, and the deceased’s favorite things. Some visitors hold their loved one’s hand or sit in a chair nearby. They always have as much time as they need to say goodbye.
“A home funeral is directed by the family,” Lorenz said. “The decisions are made by the people who loved the person.”
Most people think they must call a funeral home to remove the body immediately from the home after a loved one passes. But an at-home funeral, also known as a family-directed funeral, allows the loved one to lie in vigil in the home for approximately three days after passing. The family must make sure their loved one is properly washed, dressed, and cooled.
“This can be thought of as an extension to taking care of your loved one during the final stages of their life,” Lorenz said.
After a few days of visitation, a religious leader or officiant might be called to lead a personal service for a small group, Lorenz said. A larger memorial service for the public may be held later.
Are home funerals legal?
Home funerals are legal in every U.S. state, but some states require varying levels of involvement with a funeral professional. A death certificate is needed to transport the body to a cemetery or a crematorium, and in nine U.S. states, a funeral home must complete the death certificate paperwork and transport the body.
In other states, you can obtain a death certificate through the Electronic Death Registration System, which is state specific and can be found online. The NHFA has compiled a complete list of home funeral laws by state.
Is a family-directed funeral right for your family?
“People are deeply changed by this experience,” Lorenz said. “They’re less afraid of death. They usually walk away from this saying, ‘I want my family to have this experience when I die.’”
If family members are uncomfortable taking care of the deceased, they can seek help from an NHFA home funeral guide. The service is free of charge, but many families make donations. The guide will wash, dress, and cool the body and educate the family about their state’s laws.
But an at-home funeral isn’t for everyone. Home funerals require the cooperation of many loved ones, and situational exceptions exist. If the body has been autopsied, a home funeral is not possible, and if the person died in a horrible accident, it’s not advisable to have a family-directed funeral, Lorenz said.
Home funerals also necessitate considerable education if you don’t use a home funeral guide. You must learn how to care for the body and research your state’s laws for the death certificate and transit permits. If required, you’ll need to find a funeral director who will help you with paperwork and transportation.
How much does an at-home funeral cost?
Home funeral expenses are nominal. They include little or no funeral home costs, body preservation materials, transportation expenses, and burial or cremation fees. Cremation usually costs hundreds of dollars, and burial at a cemetery averages a few thousand dollars.
If the deceased has a Final Expense insurance plan, it may be used to pay for home funeral expenses. This includes flowers, the officiant, transportation, and burial or cremation.
Is preplanning possible with home funerals?
Just as with any type of funeral service or celebration of life, an at-home funeral will go more smoothly if it’s preplanned. And you can make it easier for your family by setting aside funds to cover it.
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After you’ve learned all the requirements in your state, you can preplan an at-home funeral if you’d like to have one yourself. But remember to speak frankly with your family to see if they’d feel comfortable with all the steps, part of the duties, or none.
If your family is on board, you can work with a funeral director or home funeral guide to plan a funeral step-by-step. If you work with a funeral home, you may be able to qualify for a Preneed insurance plan, but you’ll need to ask your funeral home partner what your plan covers.
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