How Clergy, Chaplains, and Celebrants Can Assist Families Who Choose Home Funerals in Washington
Washingtonians have the legal right to custody and control of their own dead. Clergy, Chaplains, and Celebrants play a vital role in helping the next-of-kin and their families and communities to know their rights and to consider whether engaging in aspects of hands-on care for their dead – sometimes known as a “home funeral” – is right for them.
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 Families Washingtonians who are members of a religious congregation or have an active faith tradition may turn to their Clergy for guidance when a death occurs. Others may find themselves supported by a Chaplain in a hospital, hospice, or emergency response setting, or using a Clergyperson booked through a funeral home. Some families rely on a secular Celebrant for assistance in designing or officiating a funeral or memorial. Regardless of the circumstance, Clergy, Chaplains, and Celebrants can:
In anticipation of or at time of death, ask “What plans can we assist you in making?” instead of “What funeral home are you using?”
Provide the following information: “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;
making arrangements for any ceremony and for final disposition (for example, with a cemetery or crematory, or obtaining county planning commission permission for a home burial).”
Support the next-of-kin and their community in considering options for meaningful hands-on engagement in ceremony and ritual: bathing and dressing the body; visitation with the body at home or in another setting; making or decorating a shroud or casket; carrying and lowering the body and helping to close the grave or witnessing the cremation; creating meaningful, personal ceremony.
Familiarize yourself with the additional resources below.
Additional Information National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA) www.homefuneralalliance.org Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) www.funerals.org
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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.
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