How Medical Examiners 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 next-of-kin 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.
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 As the person responsible for establishing cause of death, Medical Examiners are often the primary legal authority in contact with the next-of-kin. How you approach their choices will determine the direction taken. Here are three ways you can positively influence the outcome by providing legally appropriate information:
The prevailing practice when a death has occurred, or in anticipation of a death, is to ask the next-of-kin, “What funeral home do you want us to call?” Typically, this question is accompanied by an information sheet listing all area funeral homes. Both the question and the information sheet imply that the next-of-kin is required to purchase the services of a funeral director or mortuary when this is not, in fact, the case. Instead ask them, “What plans can we assist you in making?”
Provide the following information alongside any information about local funeral homes: Under Washington law, the next-of-kin 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).
If autopsy, tissue, or organ donation is involved, thank you for continuing to support families wishing to view or spend time with the deceased before final disposition.
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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