Frazer Blog

Different states, different funeral laws

by | Jun 30, 2016 | Funeral Profession

A map with a compass

Bureaucracy, red tape, and regulations — even in death you just can’t escape it.

We’ve mentioned before how states have mixed laws when it comes to funeral processions. It can get confusing, especially for families visiting out of state. For example, five states allow funeral processions the right-of-way at intersections without having to obey traffic signals, 15 other states allow the same but only if (1) the lead vehicle went through it while it was green and (2) the vehicles are properly identified to be in a funeral procession. “Properly identified” varies too.

That’s just for a funeral procession. What else varies from state to state?

Embalming

For the most part, states agree that embalming is not required, but there are some exceptions. Embalming is required when a body crosses the state line out of Alabama and Alaska. When leaving the state lines of California, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, and New Jersey embalming is required — but only when the body leaves on a common carrier; e.g. train or airplane.

Embalming (or other means of preservation, like refrigeration) may be required by states when there is a viewing/wake past the waiting period. Some states have a waiting period that varies from 24 to 72 hours. After that time is up, the body must either be embalmed or preserved in some way. In extremely rare cases, some states such as Illinois may require embalming in the event of infectious disease. Here is an in-depth look at each state’s general embalming practices.

Licensing

This one differs a lot. To get the proper licensing and education to be a funeral director or embalmer, each state requires somewhere between 1 to 2 years. The length of an apprenticeship varies from state to state too.

In addition to preliminary education, some states require continuing education while some do not. A funeral director in Colorado doesn’t even require any licensing; you just need to work at an approved funeral home or crematory.

Cremation

Cremation laws not only vary state by state; they also vary by county. Let’s start with the waiting period: the most common is a 24-hour waiting period before a body can be cremated. Some states, like Texas, require a 48-hour waiting period.

What about after the cremation? Scattering ashes is another gray area. Texas allows scattering ashes over uninhabited public land. California only allows scattering ashes in cemeteries, unless you have the written consent of a property owner or governing agency, and there are no local ordinances prohibiting it. California also prohibits sprinkling ashes on a beach, unless you are 500 yards out. Florida, on the other hand, requires that you must scatter ashes in areas where the water is at least 1,800 feet deep.

Food and Beverages

New York just recently allowed food and beverages to be served in funeral homes. Connecticut and New Jersey don’t allow either. Missouri, North Dakota, and Vermont will allow food and drink, but only under certain conditions. And it looks like only one funeral home is allowed to serve families alcohol in the small Illinois town of Wheeling.

Times Are Changing

Even as new funeral trends emerge, it takes time for states to decide on laws and get them on the books. Just look at the new trend of alkaline hydrolysis. While it’s become a popular alternative to traditional cremation, it’s currently legal in just 13 states. As newer technologies and trends emerge in deathcare, how will each state adapt?

6 Comments

  1. Kimberly

    I have a question about obtaining information.

    I would like to know if there are any states that will accept a completed apprenticeship from another state?
    I found Washington state and Oregon will accept other state apprenticeship if they are 24 month.

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Leira

      If you look up NFDA, national funeral director’s association, there are downloadable spreadsheets that detail which states require internships, apprenticeship, level of schooling, license for funeral directing, license for embalming, and gaining reciprocity etc

      Reply
  2. Ridley Fitzgerald

    It’s good to learn more about funeral laws. We’re planning one right now, and I appreciate the clarifications that you have. I’ll have to ask and see if we can find a funeral home that allows food and drinks to be served. That’d be nice.

    Reply
  3. mike

    Sounds like you need to open a restuarant instead of a funeral home

    Reply
  4. Shelia Champion

    I have been fighting to change funeral laws in Alabama and have managed to get the casket sales law and the requirement for a funeral director to be used in every instance. I am currently working to change the embalming law. Your statement about Alabama’s embalming law is incorrect. Alabama does NOT require a body entering the state to be embalmed, only those leaving the state. As a home funeral guide, I could move an un-embalmed body 300 miles across the state, but to move one the 4 miles from my house to Tennessee requires embalming. This law is ONLY so funeral homes can suck a little more money out of a family.

    Reply
    • Samantha Ward

      Hello Shelia,
      Thank you for pointing out this error! We erroneously stated that bodies needed to be embalmed when entering Alabama, but the law does state the opposite — that they need to be embalmed when leaving the state. I have corrected the language within the article to reflect this.
      Thank you!

      Reply

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