Direct burial, also referred to as immediate burial, is a process by which the remains of a deceased person are interned directly after the individual passes away. The process of direct burial results in the remains of a deceased being transported from the place of death to the cemetery, typically with a brief stop at the mortuary or funeral home.

When Is a Direct Burial Permissible?

A direct burial is permissible in a situation in which a person suffered a medically supervised death. This includes a death that occurs when a person is in a hospital, nursing or long-term care center, or hospice. It is also permissible in California if a deceased person saw his or her primary care physician within 20 days of passing on. In simple terms, direct burial is permissible if there is no set of circumstances that precludes the immediate conveyance of the remains to a cemetery for internment.

When Is a Direct Burial Not Permissible?

A direct burial is not permissible is a person died an unattended death. An unattended death is one in which an individual dies for some reason and his or her body is not immediately discovered. Indeed, days, weeks, or even a longer period of time may pass between the death and the discovery of the remains.

A direct burial also may not permissible if the coroner will be involved in undertaking a forensic examination following the death of the individual. Generally speaking, involvement with the coroner’s office will rule out a direct burial if the remains will be in the custody of the coroner for more than a day or two.

On the other hand, provided the coroner properly maintains the remains in a refrigerated state, and the body is only with the coroner for a day or two, a direct burial may be possible after that.

Why People Select Direct Burial

There are several key reasons why people elect to have a direct burial of a loved one. These include:

  • Cost savings
  • Environmental considerations
  • The decision not to have a funeral
  • Religious beliefs

What Does a Mortuary or Funeral Home Do in the Case of a Direct Burial?

When a direct burial is to occur, the duties of a mortuary or funeral home are significantly less. In a direct burial situation, a mortuary or funeral home undertakes these tasks:\

  • Obtain death certificate
  • Obtain burial certificate
  • Allow family time to purchase a burial plot, if not already done
  • Transport the body from death site to mortuary to cemetery

Four Major Differences Between Traditional and Direct Burial

There are four primary differences between a traditional and a direct burial:

  • No funeral ceremony
  • No viewing or visitation
  • No graveside ceremony
  • No embalming or other preparation of a body

What Is the Timeframe for a Direct Burial?

There is a reason why a direct burial is also known as an immediate burial. The burial must occur promptly, and within a day of the individual’s passing as a general rule.

Does a Direct Burial Have to Be in a Cemetery?

California law only permits burials to occur in what is defined as established cemeteries. With that said, California law does permit the establishment of family cemeteries. In order to lawfully establish a family cemetery, you must obtain permission to do so from your local zoning authority. You might be able to obtain such permission in a rural area if you own a more sizable amount of land. The determination as to whether a family cemetery will be permitted is done on a case by case basis.

Keep in mind that seeking the permission of zoning authority to establish a family cemetery takes time. Unless you have preexisting permission for a family cemetery on your property, you will not have the time necessary to obtain the permission in order to effect a direct burial.

Can a Gravesite Service Occur?

There is nothing preventing a gravesite service at the time of direct burial. Oftentimes, at the time of direct burial, family members assemble at the gravesite for some sort of tribute or simple service. A religious leader may be on hand for the burial, depending on the beliefs and practices of the deceased and those close to that individual. Limitations exist on what occurs at the gravesite as a result of the limited timeframe in which a direct burial must occur, more than anything else.