We’re sure you have a lot of questions, let us fill you in…
It is often falsely assumed that the services of a licensed funeral home or director are required by law to move a body from the place of death, to notify the proper authorities, and to finally bury the body. On some occasions, the person in charge at the hospital or hospice may have to be reminded that it is legal for a family member to take charge of the proceedings. If that happens, they can be referred to the following Pennsylvania law:
Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes
Title 35 P.S. Health and Safety Chapter 2. Registration of Vital Statistics Vital Statistics Law of 1953 Article V. Death and Fetal Death Registration 450.501:
The person in charge of interment or of removal of the dead body or fetal remains from the registration district shall file the death certificate with any registrar who shall be authorized to issue certified copies of such death. In other words, “the person in charge” could be a loved one. It doesn’t have to be a funeral director. It should be noted, however, that this person or family member must follow the same Pennsylvania statutes and procedures required of licensed funeral directors.
Resist any pressure to release the body only to a funeral home if those are not your wishes. If an offer is made to transport the body for you, the point-to-point cost of that transportation – in writing – should be obtained before accepting. A family member’s personal van, large SUV, or pickup truck are all perfectly normal means for transport at a savings which can be thousands of dollars.
> Refrigeration is a way of keeping the body below 40 degrees F. Most funeral homes have coolers.
> Refrigeration is also done with dry ice, and often with gel packs and regular ice (in bags to keep the water from making a mess as it melts), or simply by turning the AC (home or auto) to the coldest setting.
Only when the county or state has contracted with a business for the handling of unclaimed bodies, where next of kin cannot be found and notified, is this legal.
According to a local crematory, the only State restriction on scattering cremains is that if you are going to bury or scatter ashes on private property, you must have the permission of the property owner.
With regards to scattering cremains on public lands, lakes, or streams, there are no restrictions in that regard, but we were advised to do it discreetly and privately. For more on this subject, see the FCA Newsletter article entitled “Scatter Brained” (page 6).
First remember, A death is not an emergency.
1A Dad is failing, in his late 80’s, found dead in the morning. Call his doctor. The doctor will drop off a plain white death certificate, which needs to be completed on the top 2/3 before taking to the local registrar.
1B Mom is in hospice. An RN-pronouncer will come out with the plain white death certificate and leave it with the body (they usually drop it off at the funeral home). You will have to get the cause of death signed from the doctor before taking it to the local registrar before burial or cremation (long weekend: a temporary burial permit will do; cremation – must get MD’s signature before faxing it to the coroner to give his/her consent).
2 Wife is in her 70’s, not feeling well. Retires early. Is dead in the morning. Do not move or touch the body. Call the doctor, and let him/her make the decision as to whether this is a coroner’s case or his/her decision. If there is no doctor to call, call the local police, who will contact the coroner’s office. They will either sign off, or take the body for an autopsy (stroke or MI usually). You may have to drive to the coroner’s office to pick up the plain white death certificate as they do not always carry blank forms with them. You need the designated agent form from “Before I Go” the decedent has previously filled out. Presumably the chair of the burial arrangements group has already met with the coroner’s office, so they will not be blindsided. They hate surprises.