- Uncommon as the practice is, the laws allowing home burials are more common than you might guess.
- FindLaw.com calls state laws "surprisingly permissive"
- In most states it is possible to bury someone on your own property
— in or out of a casket — as long as you are outside the city limits
- Public-health authorities agree that burials, in or out of coffins, pose no health threat
- even in disasters, except where people have died in epidemics.
- [MSN Money: Documents you need before you die]
The main hurdle is likely to be - the size of your property:
- regulations often stipulate a 5-acre minimum (although that varies);
- state or local regulations usually specify how and where a body must be placed;
- typically, some distance from a water source and away from power lines where digging may be required in the future;
- approval from a zoning or health board may be required;
- You'll probably have to get a death certificate and
- may even be required to set up a fund to cover costs for the grave's upkeep;
- some local authorities require establishing a "private family cemetery"
--- by staking out the site, applying for zoning and filing a map of the cemetery with the deed;
- "in some cases, only family members may be buried there" Harris says.
- "Other locales may be more liberal"
If all this sounds easy or straightforward, don't be fooled
- just finding - who's in charge - can be a challenge.
- [Slide show: Own your own graveyard]
Confusion over rules
- The authorities themselves often don't know the rules
- Many planning departments know nothing about this. They've had so few requests
- Generally, if you're in a city or in a suburb, on a street with other people, most of the time the zoning board is going to say:
--- 'We're not going to let you bury a casket in the backyard'
- That was true even 35 years ago, when Elvis Aaron Presley died and
--- the city of Memphis made his family get a zoning variance
--- to bury the King's remains on the grounds of Graceland.
- [Bing: Maintaining graveyards]
- In the years since, it has not gotten easier
- When representatives of Michael Jackson's estate tried getting permission to bury him at his home
--- 3,000-acre Neverland Ranch in rural Santa Barbara County
--- they ran into so many hoops that they gave up
--- The bureaucratic hurdles on the state and local level for interment on property that wasn't designated a cemetery were extensive
--- Finally, Jackson was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, Calif.
- Because of the complications, if your plans — for yourself or a loved one - involve home burial or any other do-it-yourself approach
- experts advise planning ahead and learning the rules where you live.
State laws are easy to find
- They are compiled in "Final Rights"
- Also, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit organization, offers state laws for download at a cost of $5 per state
- Additionally, the site lists state laws directing how to ensure your heirs will dispose of your body as you wish after you die
- The FCA invites consumer inquiries
- as does Lisa Carlson, consumer funeral expert and co-author of "Final Rights"
- Mostly, state laws just offer general guidance.
- A few states — Maine and Oregon, for example — have requirements for home burial
- instead of or in addition to local regulations
- No state prohibits home burials
- 8 states: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York
— require a funeral director to witness any burial, Sehee says.
- Separate state regulations cover preparation of a body at home.
Help for consumers
Learning your local rules can require some detective work:
1. final authority often lies with city or county planning departments;
2. the FCA's 87 chapters in 42 states may be helpful;
3. HomeFuneralDirectory.com has resources and information about:
- "green" funerals &
- a state-by-state list of "home-funeral consultants", sometimes called "death midwives,"
who may be familiar with local regulations;
4. The Islamic Society of North America's "Guide to Funeral Regulations in North America" offers:
- a summary of state laws,
- guidance on dealing with authorities and
- contact information for authorities in each state;
- local Islamic centers may be familiar with local burial laws.
In Maine, it was an office in the State Division of Environmental Health
— complying with the rules was simple.
- The law specified how far the grave must be from abutting properties and water sources
- it was required to draw a map of its location on her property and
- file it with the county, attached to the property's deed.
- About once a month, Scott Gilligan, legal counsel for the funeral directors association, gets a call from someone, who wants to establish a cemetery at home.
- He advises them to think carefully about it for several reasons:
- a grave may diminish a property's value;
- "Nobody can build on it unless they go to the expense of moving the grave, disinterring the body, relocating it to a cemetery and getting the court to approve it," Gilligan says.
- if you have a family gravesite, you'll need to ensure your right to visit if you sell;
- even where state or local laws allow families access, Gilligan advises attaching the condition to the property's deed at the sale.
- consider, also, how you'll feel if, in the future, your peaceful home cemetery becomes part of a shopping mall or housing development.
There are drawbacks to acquiring a property with a grave, too:
- It's difficult to move a body;
- Often, the law requires tracking down family members for permission.
- In Ohio, for example, to move his father's grave — even with his mother dead and all siblings on board — Gilligan says a probate court would have to agree, and courts generally frown on moving graves without a compelling reason.
- Reburial can cost $5,000 to $10,000 for each body, for purchasing a new site, digging a grave, moving the remains and perhaps replacing a casket or vault.
- If all the research, regulations and hassles seem daunting, there's a simpler way:
- cremate the body and bury or scatter the ashes.
- it is increasingly popular, and ecologically friendly alternatives are available.
- The funeral directors association says that:
--- in nearly 41% of deaths, cremation was chosen in 2010,
--- up from 26% in 2000;
--- the average cost, according to the National Cremation Research Council, is around $1,100