Planning a DIY Funeral or Memorial
Funeral homes aren’t the only location a family can have a funeral.
In recent years, more people have decided to have simple funerals at home, or at a place they loved in life, in a ceremony of their own design, rather than in a funeral home.
Having a DIY funeral has many benefits, however, a person and their family should know what they are getting into before planning such a gathering.
In this guide, you will learn:
- What to do when a loved one dies
- Selecting a location for the farewell process
- Planning the funeral ceremony
- Planning the burial or cremation
- Benefits of a DIY funeral
- More information and links
What to Do When a Loved One Dies
- The key to a DIY funeral is planning ahead: Part of the reason people seek a traditional funeral home’s help is because their loved one has not planned for their death, or because the family doesn’t know how to handle their loved one’s death. This is totally normal, however, planning ahead can give families more funeral options (meaningful/scenic venue, known officiants, custom vendors) that are often better and less expensive than what traditional funeral homes offer. DIY funerals also give families more control. We’ll discuss these benefits at the end of this guide.
- Regulations to know: The following are essential duties that funeral homes typically help a family complete. If you wish to bypass a funeral home’s help, please note the following and make certain you will be able to complete these tasks on your own.
- Reporting a death: This Consumer Reports piece details how to handle a person’s death. The checklist provides information concerning the death of a person in hospice care, and how to report an unexpected death to authorities.
- Body laws: Every state has its own laws and regulations concerning after-death body care and disposal. Click here for a state-by-state list of body laws and regulations.
- Paperwork: If you are planning your own DIY funeral, ensure you’ve already filled out your advance directives. If you are helping plan a loved one’s DIY funeral, consult these directives before planning anything.
- Who is in charge: Next, make certain that all paperwork is filled out and filed. Click here to find out who is legally in charge when someone dies (this is dependent on what state you live in) and what paperwork has to be filed (this is also dependent on the state you live in).
- Home vs. another location: Although the ideal place to have a DIY funeral is in a person’s home, family and friends could elect to have the funeral in another location (e.g., nature, community space, any meaningful place for the deceased, family, and friends).
- Going to another location: In order to have a DIY funeral in another location, the person planning the funeral must do the following:
- Contact the establishment well in advance: Even if you plan on having a funeral in a park or an open field, it’s essential to contact the organization or entity that owns the space. The space owner will tell you if you’re allowed to hold a funeral in their establishment or on their land, and how to navigate the space (how many people are allowed in/on the property, how to navigate parking, what vendors need to know, etc.).
- Arrange for transportation: First, find out your state’s laws concerning body transportation. If it’s legal to transport a body on your own in your state, make certain you own a vehicle (a truck or SUV, suggests the Bay Area Funeral Consumers Association) that can accommodate a human body. Also consider doing an internet search for “body transportation services in (your state).” Another option is to ask local funeral homes about their transportation policies.
Planning the funeral ceremony
Dressing a body
- Shrouding and dressing a body: After you or a hired professional (see below) have thoroughly cleaned and cared for your loved one’s body, you will shroud or dress the body before the funeral begins. You need to use a shroud that’s made of biodegradable materials if the body is getting buried in a green cemetery.
- Clothing options depend on burial procedures: Conventional clothing is fine if a traditional burial or cremation is planned. The Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives has published a comprehensive PDF concerning how a person can clean and dress a body in a shroud if you need further guidance.
Funeral vendors and other DIY funeral professionals
- Caskets and urns: To save costs and procure a high quality casket, consider buying a casket online. If you also plan to use the casket for cremation, make sure you inform the casket retailer..
- Going online: Online stores, such as Harbor Caskets, typically carry high-quality, handcrafted, American-made caskets that contain locally-sourced materials at lower prices. (Also note that many online stores sell urns, too.) Harbor Caskets can also create custom-built caskets.
- Check your casket or urn vendor: If you choose to buy a casket or urn online, click here for Harbor Casket’s detailed guide on how to buy a casket online. If a person chooses to have their body cremated after a DIY funeral, also make arrangements with a crematorium. This SevenPonds piece advises that people find a crematorium in their town that directly works with families (some crematoriums only work with funeral homes).
- Flower vendors: Contact local flower shops to ensure you can obtain the variety of flowers you want, when you want. To save money, consider harvesting local flowers, plants, and branches yourself. Many establishments also rent silk flower arrangements for a small fee.
DIY funeral help
- DIY funeral directors: Some funeral directors are open to helping people plan and execute home funerals. The Home Funeral Alliance has a list of directors here.
- Home funeral professionals: There also are a handful of people who are not funeral directors who can help families and friends plan, execute, and officiate a DIY funeral. These professionals are typically called death doulas, but are sometime referred to as death midwives or home funeral guides. Click here for a list of death doulas, and here for more information about what death doulas do. Some chaplins or religious officials also may be open to officiate a DIY funeral. The Home Funeral Alliance also provides a list of Home Funeral Guides here.
- Family-run funerals: Also, don’t underestimate your ability to officiate your loved one’s service. DIY funerals are often headed by a handful of friends and family members who recite beloved memories. Taking on this role—and encouraging friends and family to help—can allow you to save money, and also can help you feel part of the ceremony.
- Cremation: Even if you have a DIY funeral, you may choose to use a funeral home to help you transfer your loved one’s body to a conventional or green burial site, or a crematorium to be cremated.
- Cemetery burial: If you choose to do this on your own, please consider the regulations in your state concerning transporting a body. Also, if you are arranging the burial on your own, make certain you know if your loved one wants to be embalmed or have a natural burial; burial requirements differ for each option. (As we mentioned before, a person typically decides what type of burial they want long before death is near. Check a loved one’s advance directives for this information.)
Always talk to cemetery officials well in advance. Typically, most cemeteries are privately run, or are controlled by a city, or church. Most cemeteries have websites with contact information. A family also could ask a funeral home official, a death doula, or a DIY/home funeral guide to help them contact a cemetery. In general, green cemeteries tend to allow for more “hands-on” funerals. Here’s a list of current green cemeteries in the United States, and information about green burial from the Green Burial Council.
- Home burial: Want to be buried at home? You can do that, but again, be certain you fully understand your state’s burial laws. Also, consider the equipment and machinery you will need in order to dig an appropriately sized hole. This family provides a detailed description of how they DIYed their mother’s grave.
- Grave markers: And if you’re arranging your love one’s burial, remember that you’ll also have to purchase their gravestone. The following are a few things to consider when buying a gravestone:
- Each cemetery has their own regulations (green and traditional cemeteries follow different rules, too), so, check with the cemetery you plan on using before buying a monument.
- If you did a home burial, you can use anything to mark your loved one’s grave; just make certain it will last the test of time.
- This guide gives a few tips concerning how to buy a grave marker, and what to look for when buying a grave marker. You also could contact a cemetery or local funeral home about grave marker options.
Benefits of a DIY funeral
- Traditional vs. DIY: Most DIY funerals are less expensive than traditional, full-service funerals that take place in a funeral home. People can typically save money by performing many post-death duties on their own.
- Customize the location, timing, ceremonies, and vendors: DIY funerals allow funeral planners to plan every part of the process, as well as shop around for their preferred vendors. They might also assign certain tasks to friends and family, rather than hire a vendor or multiple vendors to fill those roles.
An intimate goodbye
- Saying goodbye on your time: If a person chooses to have their body remain in their home after their death, family and friends typically can spend hours to days with their loved one (depending on their state’s body laws, which we’ll discuss later).
- Care for the body: The Home Funeral Alliance has a practical fact sheet that details how friends and family can care for a body, and clean and prepare a body after death. Then, depending on how long a family wishes to keep the body at home, a family can cool the body accordingly. For example, if a body will remain in the home for less than 24 hours, the family could elect to just turn on the home’s air conditioner and open its windows. If the body will sit for a longer period of time, a family can use this guide for at-home cooling tips.
- Sit with the body: Having a DIY funeral typically allows friends and family a chance to give their loved one a long, meaningful goodbye. Family and friends can sit bedside, discussing memories they have of their passed loved one, or adorn the body with family heirlooms.
- More control: Allowing a traditional funeral home to care for your loved one’s body means you give up some control. When you DIY a funeral, you have more control over what you pay for, who you hire to help you, and other aspects of the funeral (decorations, timing, caskets/urns, etc.)
The links below will take you to various articles and videos that show how people have executed DIY funerals, and other sites to help you in the DIY funeral process.
The National Home Funeral Alliance’s list of home funeral articles.
The National Home Funeral Alliance’s list of home funeral videos, interviews, podcasts, and documentaries.
Intimate home funeral stories.
“A Family Undertaking” via PBS
The Funeral Consumers Alliance is an organization that gives the public information on how they can have a “meaningful, dignified, and affordable” funeral.
“Leon’s Home Funeral,” a short DIY funeral film
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris, a book about home and DIY funerals
We want to hear from you!
Thank you for reading our guide. If you are planning a funeral, please let us know and we would be honored to help.