Guidelines for Burial or Cremation without a Funeral Director

Caring for your own dead can be immensely rewarding and help ease the pain of grief. It is also emotionally demanding, and, because of the widespread misunderstanding of the law in Massachusetts, it can be difficult. The law clearly permits persons to care for their own dead. The state Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) has provided written guidelines to the city and town clerks and boards of health advising them that the care of one’s own dead is legal. Even the Board of Registration in Embalming and Funeral Directing has agreed to withdraw its objections to issuance of burial permits to persons other than undertakers.

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If you are considering caring for your own dead, we recommend that you plan carefully and communicate in advance with the agencies you will have to deal with…

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In September 2014, the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records implemented an online system for death certificates and burial permits. An individual who chooses…

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Water Lily Red

Disposition/Removal Permit

(Formerly Burial Permit) The “Permit” is actually a permit to transport a body and dispose of it by burial, cremation or donation to a medical school…

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Statue Bowing

Time is an obvious constraint in carrying out the care of your own dead. Nursing homes often want a body removed immediately…

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Cremation requires an additional certificate from the medical examiner stating that they have viewed the body and that no further examination or judicial inquiry concerning the same is necessary…

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A box can be made of plywood for less than $100. A simple container for cremation, often called an “alternative container” can be obtained from a cooperative crematory or funeral director…

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Hand Heart Body Donation

Body Donation

Although body donation does not, strictly speaking, come under the heading of caring for your own dead, it does provide an alternative to conventional cremation and burial. If you wish to be a body donor…

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Death Certificate

Coordinating Death Certificate Completion

The Medical Certifier Worksheet must be completed by the certifying physician or medical examiner prior to the release of the body. You will work with the city/town clerk for data entry….

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PDF Forms

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Medical Certifier Worksheet

Medical Certifier Worksheet

Informant Worksheet

Informant Worksheet

Funeral Provider Worksheet

Veteran Information Worksheet

Caring For Your Own Procedures

Highlighting required forms, upon death in Massachusetts

We recommend visiting reviewing the  Guide: Issues to Consider in Preparing for Disposition of Decedents for most recent guidelines regarding death certificates in Massachusetts.

  1. Obtained from the Certifier:

    Certifier Worksheet from an offline certifier or an Attestation Copy form from an online certifier, but this may vary somewhat by practice and facility. If a Registered Nurse Pronouncement of Death Form (R-312) is used to move the remains initially, a certification of death must still be obtained from the certifier.

    1. Attending physician, if an expected death at home, Do not call 911 as they will then be required to attempt resuscitation which will be distressing if clear person is dead.
    2. Attending physician if death in hospital,
    3. In the case of an unexpected death at home, call the family doctor if there is one. However, an unexpected death will probably trigger the Medical Examiner becoming involved who will then become the certifier.

    The family designee will then work with the City or Town Clerk in the community where the death occurred to complete an online record of death, by providing the Clerk with the Certifier Worksheet, Nurse Pronouncement Form, and a completed Informant Worksheet that will provide the legal and personal information about the decedent.  The City or Town Clerk will enter the information into the EDRS, and release the electronic record to the burial agent for review prior to issuance of a burial permit. See “Coordinating the Completion of the Death Certificate” for more information on the specific forms you will need to fill out.

  2. Disposition/Removal permit — Obtained from local Burial Agent when Death Certificate is filed. This also serves as your transit permit, required for transporting a body from one town to another.
  3. For cremation you will also need a Cremation Authorization Order
    Obtained from the crematory and required by them for their legal protection: Authorization from next of kin of the decedent for cremation.

    • Order of next of kin: spouse, or, if none, then children (all adult children must sign, and if sending in authorization by fax it must be notarized and the original sent by mail, if from another country consulate should verify the identity).
    • If decedent signed and notarized a Declaration of Intent Regarding Cremation during his/her lifetime this will be helpful in convincing family members, but is not sufficient for the crematory who will still require the above Cremation Authorization Order. The Declaration of Intent Regarding Cremation can be used to authorize one person to sign the next of kin Cremation Authorization Order.
  4. Medical Examiner — Cremation Fee Form — Pick up the yellow copy of this form from the crematory at the time you pick up the cremains (cremated remains). The $100 cremation authorization fee must then be sent in directly to the state. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner