How Cemetery and Crematory Staff Can Support Families Who Choose Home Funerals in Washington
Washingtonians have the legal right to custody and control of their own dead. Whether the death was anticipated or unanticipated, once time and cause of death are established, the family may choose to care for and transport the body, file the death certificate, arrange for disposition, and conduct any other aspect of after-death care without the assistance of a funeral director, or using one for some but not all of these tasks.
Legal Authority of the Next-of-Kin In Washington, the legislative authority for the next-of-kin to act as unpaid funeral services practitioners is found in RCW§68.50.270: "Possession of human remains: The person or persons determined underRCW§68.50.160as having authority to order disposition is entitled to possession of the human remains without further intervention by the state or its political subdivisions."
RCW§68.50.160(1) specifies: “A person has the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or post death consent of another person. A valid written document expressing the decedent's wishes regarding the place or method of disposition of his or her remains, signed by the decedent in the presence of a witness, is sufficient legal authorization for the procedures to be accomplished.” Immediate family are by law the default decision makers regarding physical remains.
Ways You Are Empowered to Assist the Next-of-Kin Your business may provide some of the services of a funeral director – for example, filing the death certificate in conjunction with a direct cremation. Or you may typically rely on a funeral home to walk the next-of-kin through much of the process. Regardless of your services, cemetery and crematory staff that sell directly to the public can be prepared to work with the next-of-kin who is acting as their own funeral director:
Ensure that your staff are fully aware of the following information and are able to share it with interested families: “Under Washington law, families may conduct any or all tasks commonly performed by a funeral home, except embalming (which is not required by Washington law). This may include:
caring for the deceased (for example, bathing and dressing);
sheltering the deceased at home;
filing death notice, handling death certificate/transportation/disposition permit;
transporting the body home or to another location for care and viewing (sometimes called a wake or vigil), and to place of final disposition;
and making all arrangements for any ceremony and for final disposition (for example, with a cemetery or crematory).”
Unlike licensed funeral services practitioners, there is no legal time limit for how long families may spend caring for their deceased family member in a private setting. Be prepared to receive the body directly from a family who has chosen to shelter and transport the deceased themselves.
Support the family and their community in considering options for meaningful hands-on engagement in ceremony and ritual. For a burial this can include carrying and lowering the body or remains and helping to close the grave. For cremation this could include decorating a cremation container obtained in advance or witnessing the cremation.
Familiarizing yourself with the additional information resources below will further equip you to serve families who choose to care for their dead.
Landscape photos courtesy of Sean Proll Justin Craig All Rights Reserved
Washington Funeral Resources and Education is a non-commercial public interest site dedicated to helping Washington consumers care for their own dead with or without the assistance of a funeral director. See FuneralPartnership.org for more state funeral information. This site is maintained as a project of White Eagle Memorial Preserve and Sacred Earth Foundation, which coordinates responses to inquiries with other Washington-based organizations and practitioners that support the mission of the Funeral Partnership.
Disclaimer: This website has been created by volunteers making reasonable efforts to provide resources and materials for informational purposes only. Any information you obtain from this website is not legal advice and should not be relied upon without confirmation of current law.No warranties, expressed or implied, are made with respect to the information herein. There is no guarantee that the information contained here is complete or up-to-date as of the date that you view this site. The agencies linked via hyperlinks are responsible for the content of those sites. Their information is subject to change and should be consulted directly to ensure accurate and up-to-date information. Please report any inaccuracies to us in the form on theCONTACT page. Thank you!