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After death, what are your rights? Options for body donor, home burials

An angel-themed gravestone stands watch at Prairie View Cemetery in Grangeville.

Photo by David Rauzi
An angel-themed gravestone stands watch at Prairie View Cemetery in Grangeville.

Can you dispose of cremated remains on public land? Is burial on private property allowed? What may kick in the requirement for an autopsy? Where do donated bodies go? What are my rights in choosing funeral services?

Billions of dollars are spent each year on more than two million funerals in the United States, with many choices to be made in arrangements. For consumers, rights don’t just extend to used cars, appliances or medical care. Lesser know are funeral consumer rights that protect those who are preparing and planning for the final ceremony in a person’s life: their death.

At the head, the Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), provides that consumers choose only those goods and services they want or need, and to pay only for those selected, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use.

Consumers, for example, have the following rights:

• To receive a written statement after deciding what you want, and before you pay.

• They may use an “alternative container” instead of a casket for cremation.

• Provide the funeral home with a casket or urn you buy elsewhere.

• Make funeral arrangements without embalming.

Details on these and more rights are online: .

Death and burial have an extensive list of stages and options to consider, not just with arrangements but in specifics on donating organs, tissue and entire bodies; on embalming; cremation, and the rights of veterans and their dependents. For Idaho residents, a pamphlet is available through the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Idaho ( ).

Several topics are reviewed in the pamphlet. Here is a sampling of answers to often-asked questions:


You may name an agent for body disposition if you want someone other than your next-of-kin to be in charge. A person may also establish preferences in a prepaid funeral plan.

It is legal for a family or designated agent to handle everything without a funeral director.


If the death was unexpected or the cause of death uncertain, the state will probably require an autopsy. If you have questions about the death, you may request and pay for a private autopsy.

A coroner or FBI agent in charge of investigation may, with a bit of debate, pay for the autopsy repairs when the autopsy is ordered by them and not by the family.

Organ, Body and Tissue Donation

Whole body donation to a medical school is one way to cut costs although the family must pay for transportation to either med school in this state. After study, the school will cremate the body and return the cremated remains to the family if requested. You should have back-up funeral plans if your body cannot be accepted for any reason.

There are also non-academic companies that accept whole bodies for research and education. Various body parts will likely be shipped around the country and possibly internationally. The state has no laws regulating these companies. Note that this is an entirely different category of body donation from the traditional cadaver donation to a medical school.


Bodies transported by common carrier must be embalmed.

Many funeral homes have a policy that requires embalming for a public viewing. Embalming does not protect the public health. It merely delays decomposition.

Home Burial

Home burial is permissible in Idaho but check local zoning laws first. A good practice is 150 feet from a water supply and 25 feet from a power line with two or three feet of earth on top. You should draw a map of the land showing where the family cemetery is and have it recorded with the deed.


Some crematories will let the family witness the cremation.

The cremation process takes about two-and-a-half hours for an average adult. The staff will remove any metal and pulverize the bone fragments to small particles, similar to white or gray coarse sand, about 5-10 pounds.


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