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?
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.
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 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?