A hundred years ago home funerals were the norm. Today, however, many people don’t realize they still have the option of choosing a home funeral. In most states, home funerals can be offered without the use of a funeral home or funeral director. The family can act as its own funeral director.

Although home funerals take more time to arrange, families that choose them feel they are much more intimate and meaningful than those arranged by a funeral home. This is true, in part, because the families are much more involved in the details of planning the home funeral or memorial.

Being involved with planning and making the arrangements also helps the family in dealing with their grief. It gives a sense of control and helps those in grief feel like they are doing something useful. Many family members feel this is one last way to provide a service to, and to honor, their loved one.

To make any funeral meaningful it must reflect the values of the family and the person who died. Turning the funeral arrangements over to a funeral home who may not know the deceased runs the risk of a funeral that feels empty, cold, or impersonal. Many people report attending funerals such as these, perhaps you have yourself.


The main advantage of a home funeral is the degree to which it can be personalized, and the fact that all family members, even children, can be included as much as they want to be. Another advantage is that it can be much, much lower in cost. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a full-service funeral was $6,500 in 2004. This doesn’t include cemetery costs. A home funeral may cost much less than $1,000.

A possible disadvantage of a home funeral is that some family members may object, and by its very nature it takes more organizing and administering. Part of the administration includes the forms required by the city or state where the death took place. Although it is not difficult to obtain and file these forms, to those deep in grief it can be daunting. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead with a home funeral, and to gather friends who will take on specific tasks. Families may also need to educate hospitals, nurses, and other officials about home funerals. Some mistakenly believe they are against the law, and may resist your efforts. It’s a good idea to do a “dry-run” with these officials before the death.


The main advantage of using a home funeral is that all the arrangements can be made at one place. It is easy to see how people can be so overcome with grief that it is easier to leave all the details to a professional.

The disadvantages of using a funeral home is that they can be quite expensive. Mortuary employees may seek to “up sell” the customer so there is more profit for the business. Another disadvantage is that the funeral home may have policies or procedures that the family must adhere to. For example, if a spouse wants to sit with her deceased husband at 2 a.m., that is probably not going to be possible. Or if the family wants an all-night vigil, they may find it is against funeral home policies.

Another consideration is that a funeral provided by a funeral home may not reflect the values of the deceased or his or her family. Most people have heard horror stores about the deceased’s name being mispronounced at the funeral, or a bitter, quarrelsome individual being described as kind and loving.


Luckily, people are able to combine the advantages of a home funeral with the advantages of working with a funeral home to create the kind of tribute desired for the deceased. Many funeral homes strive to please their customers and would be glad to accommodate special requests. Be sure to ask for these before the final sale.
For example, a family may want to keep the body at home for an all-night vigil before having the funeral home remove it. Or a daughter may want to bathe and dress her mother rather than having strangers provide that service.


If you know what your options are then you are more likely to have a funeral or memorial that reflects your values, has meaning, and will serve as a loving final remembrance of your loved one. A loving, meaningful tribute can be had whether you have a home funeral, or use the services of a funeral home.

For information about arranging home funerals visit:

• FCA will advocate for an individual’s right to perform a home funeral if a government official stands in their way. Please visit http://www.funerals.org, or call 800-765-0107.

Books about rights of families in arranging their own home funeral:
• Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love by Lisa Carlson [Note: The Funeral Consumer Alliance (FCA) keeps a running list of changes to state laws since this book was published in 1998. This book is also available in the FCA online bookstore at http://www.funerals.org.]
• Dealing Creatively with Death: A Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial by Ernest Morgan.

Author's Bio: 

Donna Belk is a writer and educator in the field of death and dying. She works with individuals and families as a coach or guide for those facing end-of-life issues. Additionally Donna offers training programs and workshops to educate people about what to expect as one dies, how to prepare for a peaceful death, and how to care for your loved one after death. Donna is a hospice worker and a Registered Yoga Teacher. She combines the philosophy of her 30 years of yoga study with the issues of death and dying. Donna holds a BA from South Texas University, but considers her most important educational credential to be her own near death experience which occurred in 1985. Donna’s teaching style is warm, light-hearted and compassionate. Donna loves sharing her hospice patient stories because it feels as if she is passing on some small significance of their lives.