Taking Control of Your Loved One’s Funeral and Burial: Comprehensive Overview of California Home Funerals

Many people believe that the funeral and burial process in the United States has become something of an assembly-line process. You may be interested in making your own funeral and burial something of a more intimate, personal experience. In the alternative, you may be charged with overseeing the funeral and burial of a loved one and want to go a more direct, intimate, and personal route to honor your family member or other important individual in your life. Towards this end, you may be considering a home funeral. Through this article, you are provided comprehensive information about how to have a home funeral, either for yourself (when the time comes) or for a loved one.

The Legalities of a California Home Funeral

If you are contemplating a home funeral for yourself (when the time comes) or for another family member, you need to have an essential understanding of California home funeral laws. The laws governing home funerals in California are straightforward. You must have a clear understanding of these laws initially in order to go about the process of planning an appropriate home funeral for a loved one.

California law permits a family the ability to keep a loved one’s body at home following an individual’s death. A funeral director need not be involved in the body preparation, funeral, or burial processes, according to California law.

In California, you have the right to elect to have a home funeral. You need to right down instructions in this regard. These instructions can be included in last will and testament but are not required to be in that type of instrument. If you don’t leave such instructions before you pass away, certain members of your family have the legal ability to make the decision to have a home funeral. Which family member is able to make such a decision is ascertained according to priority established by law. The person with first priority to make a decision regarding a home funeral is a spouse. After the spouse, the law permits other family members this decision-making ability, including children or parents of the deceased, depending on who is living following your own passing.

Many people do not understand the law in California in regard to embalming. If you are like most people in California, you believe that embalming is required. In reality, California law rarely requires that the remains of a person be embalmed after death. That doesn’t mean you won’t need to take steps to slow the decomposition process if you elect to have a home funeral. However, embalming doesn’t need to be part of that process.

If you elect to have a home funeral and don’t engage the services of a funeral director, you have the legal responsibility to obtain and file a death certificate. A death certificate can be signed by the physician who last attended the deceased individual. In California, the death certificate is filed with local register of births and deaths. The death certificate must be filed within eight days of an individual’s passing. The remains cannot legally be disposed of (buried or cremated) until the death certificate has been duly filed.

While at the register’s office, you need to obtain what is known as a Permit for Disposition. Currently, the permit costs $10. The permit allows you to arrange for the transport of your loved one’s remains from the home to the point of final disposition, whether that be a cemetery or crematorium. You do not need to engage a funeral home for transport services, although some people do so. You must have this permit in hand in order for a cemetery or crematorium to be able to legally receive the remains.

Burial in California is only permitted in an established cemetery. This does not automatically preclude you from being able to have a “home burial” of the remains of a loved one. What you do need to obtain is a variance from the local zoning authority to permit a home burial. A home burial is not at all likely to be permitted in an urban area. In fact, consider that impossible. On the other hand, if you live in a rural area, own some acreage surrounding or at your residence, you may be able to obtain permission for a home burial. If you desire a home burial, you definitely need to be proactive and obtain this type of permission well in advance of your passing. It simply is not something that generally can be done on short notice.

Preparing and Caring for the Remains of a Loved One

If you are thinking about having a home funeral, you must have a frank understanding of what is involved in preparing and caring for the remains of a loved one. When you consider what is necessary to prepare and care for the remains of loved one at home, you may elect to make decisions regarding a home funeral that will involve the assistance of a funeral home (although that type of involvement is not required by California law). 

If you want to have not only a home funeral for a loved one but also desire a natural burial, you may want to take control over the preparation of the remains. As mentioned earlier, embalming is not required by California law. The preparation process itself need not be complicated.

The body preparation process includes the cleaning of the body. Some family members undertake this process themselves as a final act of love and connection to one of their own who has passed on. The body also needs to be diapered in order to address the results of the ongoing biological activity that occurs following a person’s death.

A potentially challenging aspect of preparing and caring for the remains of a loved one as part of a home funeral and natural burial is keeping the remains cool. This can be accomplished by packing ice under and around the remains or by using cold packs in the same manner.

If you desire to have not only a home funeral and a natural burial, in theory you can intern a deceased loved one in something as simple as a burial shroud. There is an issue of finding a cemetery that permits natural burial, meaning a burial without a casket or even a casket and vault. There are natural or green burial locations in Southern California.

If you elect to have a home funeral for a loved one, you are not required to be directly involved in the preparation and care for a loved one’s remains. There are California funeral homes who will provide basic services like body preparation and embalming for individuals who elect a home funeral for a loved one.

Home Funeral Service

In electing a home funeral, you essentially gain complete control over the type of service you will have for your deceased loved one. Unlike a funeral conducted in some type of house of worship or other venue, you do not face guidelines and restrictions that such locations nearly always impose.

A home funeral allows you the opportunity to have a more intimate gathering to celebrate the life and memorialize the passing of a family member or other loved one. This does not mean that you can’t involve a larger number of people in celebrating and remembering your loved one.  For example, a good many people that do have a home funeral for a loved one will have a memorial service of some type for a broader number of people at a later date. Another option is to have a home funeral followed by an interment service at the cemetery to which a larger number of people are invited.

Benefits of a Home Funeral

Individuals who’ve undertaken home funerals for their loved ones have identified a number of significant benefits associated with the process. These key benefits of a home funeral include:

  • Control over decision making
  • Reinforcement of the cycle of life
  • Cost savings
  • Promote health bereavement and healing
  • Returns death care to a more natural process
  • More loving, personal way of “saying goodbye”

After reflecting upon the information provided here, you are in a better position not only to decide whether a home funeral makes sense for you or a loved one. You also can make an educated decision of what type of home funeral best meets your own desires. Armed with this information, you have the knowledge needed to plan and execute an idyllic farewell for someone you love or even for yourself, when the time comes.