What should you expect when someone dies?
In part, that depends on how sudden the death is, and whether you’ve been able to prepare ahead of time. Here’s what’s legally required in New York:
- a death certificate
- a burial transit permit
- transport from the place of death to a cemetery or crematory by a funeral director
If death takes place in a hospital, a body may be able to be kept there, refrigerated, as long as 48 hours. But nursing homes and hospices will definitely want bodies taken shortly after death.
If the person dies at home, the family doctor (or, if there is none, the medical examiner) will need to come to the home to fill out the death certificate. BUT—the doctor doesn’t have to be there if the deceased has been in a home-based hospice program. The hospice nurse will call the doctor in charge of the hospice program, who will sign death certificate.
In New York, funeral directors pick up the death certificate when they pick up a body. The physicians or medical examiners section should already be filled in. Then the funeral director meets with the family to gather the biographical data—birth date, place of residence, occupation, veteran status, etc.—that also appears on the death certificate, and to check off disposition of the body: burial, cremation, out-of-state, or medical school donation. NOTE: some counties have county coroners, not medical examiners. But since coroner is an elected position, many counties now shy away using them.
Funeral directors have 72 hours to file the death certificate with the county health department. The health department issues a burial transit permit and gives it to the funeral director. A body can’t be buried without this permit. (The funeral home’s name and registration number appear on both the death certificate and the burial transit permit.)
Once the burial has been scheduled, the funeral director brings the burial transit permit—along with the body, of course—to the cemetery, and gives it to the cemetery staff. If the body is being cremated, the permit is given to the crematory staff. Recent legislation now requires the cemetery or crematory to give them a receipt, which needs to be filed at their funeral home.
Keep in mind that by Federal Trade Commission rules mandate that all funeral homes post a general price list that includes
- one-time package for direct cremation
- direct burial from place of death to cemetery: no embalming, no obituary, no service, and must include the price of the “minimum receptacle”—though you may buy a casket from anyone, or make your own
Later, when the burial or cremation is complete, a cemetery or crematory staff person mails a copy of the burial transit permit to the health department.
So—that’s it in a nutshell. But what about embalming? Is it required? And what about people who wish to handle every aspect of caring for their dead, themselves?
There is no state that requires embalming. (For state-by-state rules, see Caring for Your Own Dead by Lisa Carlson.) We are aware of no state that requires vaults, though many cemeteries require them.
Where bodies are transported by common carrier—by plane or other means—these three states require embalming: Kansas, Idaho, and Minnesota. Two states, New Jersey and Alaska, require embalming for transporting out of state by any means if the body won’t arrive at its final destination within 24 hours of death. And Alabama requires embalming for any out-of-state transport by any means. We accept embalmed bodies for burial where required by such laws. Please ask one of our trustees or our superintendent authorize it in writing, as per our rules and regs.
New York is one of four states that mandates transport by a funeral director. Out-of-staters must have a New York funeral director meet you or your funeral director at the cemetery. You must meet New York State Sanitary Code (section 13) and must have a burial transit permit from the proper jurisdiction in your area, and specifying Greensprings as the chosen cemetery.
For those in New York who wish to handle the entire process—though it’s a long shot, you may find a funeral home that is willing to release the body once they have the burial transit permit. Call funeral homes in your area and see if someone is willing to work with you.
But generally speaking, if you want to bring the body back to your home from a hospital or hospice, you’ll need a funeral director to transport it to your home, then to the cemetery. Meanwhile, you may do nearly everything else yourself, should you wish. After all, the Amish and Mennonites do.
If the person died at home, you have one less step to take. Once the doctor or medical examiner has come and you have a signed death certificate, you may wash and otherwise prepare the body yourself, placing it in a coffin or wrapping it in a shroud, then arranging with a funeral director for transport to the cemetery or crematory. If you use a shroud, place the body on a wide, sturdy plank for transportation.
Remember to place ice packs or dry ice around the body to keep it cold if you’ll be waiting a day or two before burial. Wear gloves when handling dry ice, and don’t put it in an airtight container. And do be prepared for the things that may happen to a body after death—if you need to know, read the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. Roach, a Reader’s Digest columnist, has “done the nearly impossible and written a book as informative and respectful as it is irreverent and witty,” or so says a review at Amazon.com.
If you know that death is pending, get in touch with your funeral director—and with us—well in advance.