In recent years, there has been a growing interest in alternative funeral options that allow families to have a more hands-on and intimate approach to saying goodbye to their loved ones. Home funerals, also known as family-led or DIY funerals, have gained popularity as a way for families to be directly involved in the after-death care of their deceased family members.
However, before embarking on this deeply personal and meaningful journey, it is essential to understand the home funeral laws in Washington state.
Washington, like many other states, has specific regulations and requirements governing home funerals. From obtaining burial permits to ensuring environmentally friendly practices, navigating the legal aspects of a home funeral can be overwhelming.
In this article, eastcoastlaws.com will explore the ins and outs of Washington home funeral laws, empowering families to make informed decisions as they seek to honor and cherish the memory of their loved ones with respect and understanding.
Do You Need a Funeral Director in Washington?
It is acceptable to keep your loved one’s body at home after they pass away in any state. You are not required to make or carry out final preparations in Washington with the assistance of a professional funeral director. The “funeral director or person having the right to control the disposition of the human remains” is allowed to file the death certificate (see, for instance, R.C.W. 70.58.170).
Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Washington?
In Washington state, the right to make funeral arrangements is governed by a hierarchy of individuals based on their relationship with the deceased. The primary decision-maker is usually the person designated in the deceased’s will or pre-arrangement documents. If there is no such designation, the responsibility typically falls to the surviving spouse or domestic partner.
If there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner, the right passes to the adult children of the deceased. In the absence of both spouse and children, the duty extends to the deceased’s parents, followed by siblings, and then to other relatives.
In cases where there are no known living relatives, the responsibility may pass to a close friend or, as a last resort, to the state. It is essential to plan ahead and communicate one’s wishes to avoid potential disputes and ensure a respectful and appropriate funeral arrangement.
(R.C.W. § 68.50.160(3) (2018).)
R.C.W. § 68.50.160(3) (2018) is a Washington state law that outlines the hierarchy of individuals with the right to make funeral arrangements for a deceased person. According to this statute, the primary decision-maker is the individual named in the deceased’s will or pre-arrangement documents.
If no such designation exists, the responsibility falls to the surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased. In the absence of a spouse or domestic partner, the right is extended to the adult children of the deceased. If there are no surviving children, the duty passes to the deceased’s parents, followed by siblings, and then other relatives.
In cases where no living relatives can be found, the responsibility may fall to a close friend or, as a last resort, to the state. This legal framework helps ensure that funeral arrangements are handled appropriately and respects the wishes of the deceased and their closest family members.
Ways to choose an agent. You must write out who you wish to handle your funeral arrangements, then date and sign the document in front of a witness. (R.C.W. § 68.50.160(3)(b).) The witness should also sign the document, as per your request.
Creating a durable power of attorney for health care and designating your agent. Making a power of attorney that names a healthcare agent is one clever way to appoint a representative. You might expressly grant your agent the authority to carry out your final arrangements in your document. (You must include this authority in the power of attorney paperwork; otherwise, your agent’s ability to make decisions will expire upon your passing.) Making separate documents for final arrangements and health can be avoided by doing this.
Must the Body Be Embalmed?
Embalming is hardly ever necessary. Until the moment of burial or cremation, the body must be embalmed or chilled if you are utilizing a funeral director. A body, however, cannot be embalmed without the consent of the person with the authority to regulate disposition. Unless the state board of health decides embalming is necessary, the funeral director must let the deceased’s family or representative know that embalming is not needed by state law.
Washington law allows “washing, anointing, clothing, praying over, reading to, singing to, sitting with, guarding, viewing, or otherwise accompanying the deceased” for up to 24 hours if you are not hiring a funeral director, or as otherwise permitted by a local health officer. 246-500-030 of the Washington Administrative Code.
A body can often be preserved for a brief period of time using refrigeration or dry ice. You can learn how to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation using the resources that are accessible. A nice place to start is the website of the National Home Funeral Alliance.
Getting a Death Certificate in Washington
Obtaining a death certificate in Washington is a crucial step when dealing with the passing of a loved one, as it serves as an official record of the death. The process for obtaining a death certificate in Washington involves several steps and can be completed through various means.
- Report the Death: The first step is to report the death to the appropriate authorities. This can be done by a family member, funeral home representative, or medical professional who was in attendance during the time of death. The death must be reported to the local health department within three days of occurrence.
- Complete Necessary Forms: To request a death certificate, you need to fill out a Certificate of Death form, which is typically completed by the funeral home or mortuary handling the deceased’s arrangements. The form contains essential information about the deceased, such as their name, date of birth, date of death, social security number, and other relevant details.
- Choose the Type of Certificate: In Washington, there are two types of death certificates available: a certified copy and an informational copy. A certified copy is the official legal document and is generally required for legal and financial matters, such as handling the deceased’s estate. An informational copy is not valid for legal purposes but may be useful for genealogical research.
- Submit the Request: Once the required forms are completed, they should be submitted to the Washington State Department of Health’s Vital Records office. Requests can be made in person, by mail, or online through the official website. There is a fee for obtaining death certificates, and additional fees apply if expedited processing is required.
- Processing Time: The processing time for obtaining a death certificate can vary depending on the method of application and workload at the Vital Records office. Regular processing typically takes a few weeks, while expedited processing can yield results within a few business days.
- Receiving the Death Certificate: Once the request is processed, the death certificate will be mailed to the requester or made available for pick-up, depending on the chosen method during the application.
Obtaining a death certificate in Washington involves reporting the death to the appropriate authorities, completing the necessary forms, and submitting the request to the Vital Records office. By following these steps, individuals can acquire the essential documentation needed for legal and administrative matters following the passing of a loved one.
Getting a Permit to Transport the Body
In Washington, obtaining a permit to transport a body is essential when moving a deceased person from one location to another. The process involves contacting the local health department in the county where the death occurred or the body is currently located. The funeral home or person responsible for transporting the body must provide relevant details, such as the deceased’s information, intended destination, and reason for transportation.
Once the necessary information is provided and any applicable fees are paid, the health department will issue a permit, allowing the legal transportation of the body to its designated location. It is important to comply with state regulations to ensure a smooth and lawful transfer of the deceased individual.
Can You Bury a Body at Home?
Washington state law permits home burial under certain conditions. While it is generally legal to bury a body on private property, specific regulations must be followed. The property owner must obtain a permit from the local health department before proceeding with the burial. The burial site should meet certain criteria, such as a minimum distance from water sources, property lines, and public areas. Additionally, the depth of the grave and the use of appropriate containers are subject to regulation.
It’s crucial to check with the local health department or relevant authorities for any updates or changes to burial regulations in Washington. Due to potential variations in local ordinances and zoning regulations, consulting with a funeral director or legal professional can ensure compliance with all applicable laws and ensure a respectful and lawful home burial. The Revised Code of Washington’s Chapter 68.20 contains a complete list of all the regulations governing cemeteries.
What About Cremation?
In Washington, cremation is a widely accepted and legally practiced method of disposition for the deceased. Cremation involves the reduction of the body to ashes and bone fragments through intense heat. To proceed with cremation, the responsible party, usually a family member or a designated representative, must complete the required authorization forms and provide the necessary information about the deceased.
Before the cremation process can take place, a cremation permit must be obtained from the local health department. This permit ensures that the death has been properly registered and that there are no legal impediments to cremation. Once the permit is obtained, the deceased is transported to a licensed crematory facility for the cremation process.
After the cremation, the cremated remains, known as “cremains,” are returned to the family or their designated recipient in an urn or container. Families have various options for the final disposition of the cremains, including burial, scattering, keeping them at home, or placing them in a columbarium.
It is essential to work with a reputable funeral home or cremation service provider to ensure that the cremation process is handled legally, respectfully, and in accordance with all applicable laws in Washington state. See Burial and Cremation Laws in Washington for more details on cremation, including regulations on spreading ashes.
Getting Help With Home Funerals
In Washington, families seeking assistance with home funerals can find support from various sources. Home funeral guides, educators, and non-profit organizations can provide valuable information and resources to help navigate the process.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Washington is one such organization that offers guidance on legal requirements, home burial permits, and eco-friendly options. Additionally, local funeral homes and funeral directors can also provide advice on home funeral arrangements, including legal aspects and necessary permits.
It is crucial to ensure compliance with state regulations while organizing a home funeral and seeking professional assistance can ensure a respectful and lawful farewell for the deceased.