Do You Need a Coffin to Be Buried? 8 Alternatives

Updated

Cake values integrity and transparency. We follow a strict editorial process to provide you with the best content possible. We also may earn commission from purchases made through affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more in our affiliate disclosure.

Preplanning your funeral means you can make your own decisions on your body’s final resting place. That way, you can spend the rest of your life knowing that your loved ones will be free to mourn you when you die instead of shopping for caskets. Or maybe they find out you do not wish to be buried in a casket at all. 

Overview: Our Top Picks

Jump ahead to these sections:

Can you be buried without a coffin or casket? Maybe you are planning the burial of a loved one, and you wonder if purchasing a casket is a necessary expense. Are you wondering if a casketless burial is allowed? We will attempt to answer this question in this article.

We will also tell you about alternative burial options you may consider besides the traditional casket placed in the ground in a cemetery.

Do You Need a Coffin in Order to Be Buried?

It would be easy to make a blanket statement and say either “yes” or “no” to answer this question. The unsatisfying answer is that you do not need a coffin or casket most of the time, but there may be a few exceptions to this rule.

There are four primary considerations to answer this question. 

Your state’s laws

Burial laws vary from state to state, and they change periodically. While it doesn’t seem that many states explicitly require the use of a casket for burial, some require a vault burial.

A vault is a concrete structure placed underground that the coffin usually resides within. Many cemeteries require the body to be placed in a vault to keep the ground level and easier to maintain.

The zoning regulations in your area

After considering your state’s laws, you then need to become familiar with the zoning laws in your area. Some areas allow for home burials, which implies that caskets are not required. Home burials aren’t acceptable in other zoned areas.

Cemetery regulations

Even if your state does not require a casket for burial, the cemetery you choose for yourself or your loved one may have this requirement.

Green cemeteries are gaining in popularity, so you may find one near you that does not require the use of a vault or casket, and some traditional cemeteries are now adding green sections. 

The definition of a casket

Finally, even if your area or cemetery requires that a body is placed in a casket before burial, there may not be any laws stating the type of casket you can use. Is a cardboard casket still a casket? A cardboard casket may be enough to follow a cemetery’s rules!

So is it possible to be buried without a casket in the United States? The answer is yes, but you need to become familiar with the regulations in your local area. 

Do You Need to Be Buried With a Burial Vault?

Again, this question is rather tricky to answer. Before discussing this topic, you must understand what a burial vault is.

A burial vault is different from a casket or coffin. A vault is typically a non-decorative item made of a heavy material placed in the ground before the graveside service. The casket is lowered into the vault, and the vault is closed and sealed. Then, the heavy earth is placed on top of the vault. 

A burial vault protects the integrity of the casket, but it also protects those walking and working above the burial site. Since wooden caskets typically disintegrate over time, it is feasible that they would eventually collapse under the weight of the earth and the heavy equipment often used in a cemetery. Such a collapse would be physically and emotionally devastating.

You will probably discover that most traditional cemeteries require burial vaults for caskets and urns. However, if you would rather be buried in an old pine box placed directly into the earth, learn the laws of your state and county for burials on private property or burials within green cemeteries. 

Can You Be Buried in a Homemade Casket?

Yes, in most cases, you can be buried in a homemade casket.

Funeral homes cannot require you to purchase a casket through them. They also can’t charge a handling fee if you bring in a casket from an outside source. They may have a strict deadline for the homemade casket delivery since it takes time to prepare the body for presentation within the coffin. 

Before you purchase the materials and casket-building plan, talk with the cemetery staff. Cemeteries can and do make their own burial regulations that are separate from state and local laws. For example, they may require a specific type of burial container. However, sometimes the casket requirement is overlooked as long as the body is placed inside a vault.

If you are struggling to find a cemetery that allows you to be buried in either a homemade casket or without a vault, consider being buried in your church cemetery. These burial spots may be reserved for members of the congregation, but they may not have as many burial restrictions as cemeteries owned by corporations. 

Cemeteries owned by religious organizations may also allow family members to dig the grave of their loved ones. Some people view this act as a way to honor a loved one and provide them with as natural of burial as possible. 

» MORE: Honor a loved one with an online memorial. Create one for free with Cake.

If I Don’t Want a Coffin, What Other Options Are Available?

If you are searching for the answer to this question, you are probably interested in the best green burial alternatives. Or perhaps you would like to learn more about what casketless options are available. Here are some to consider. Keep in mind that these options may not be available in your state, area, or local cemetery. 

Some of these casketless burials are for noncremated bodies, but we included cremation burial options as well. 

1. Direct burial in a green cemetery

If you prefer no coffin, look for a green cemetery near you. Caskets in green cemeteries must be fully biodegradable caskets, and they are commonly made out of clay, wood, or cardboard. Vaults are not used in green cemeteries either.

While these options may sound desirable, there are other things to consider if you plan to purchase a green cemetery plot. Most of these businesses do not allow embalming. This may require you to plan the funeral quickly and may limit your ability to have an open casket visitation. 

Also, some green cemeteries allow only modest headstones and few grave decorations. You may notice that green cemeteries have more weeds than traditional cemeteries since many prohibit the use of chemicals on the grass.

2. Specialized burial shrouds

Many companies have created products to make the body decompose faster. One such company markets a burial shroud that contains mycelia of mushrooms and other microorganisms that speed up the decomposition process. You can also opt for a biodegradable burial shroud made of natural materials.

These shrouds may be inside a biodegradable casket, or if your area allows, wrapped around a body buried directly into the earth.

3. Water burial

You can scatter remains at sea but it’s now possible that a noncremated body can have that final watery resting place. The United States Environmental Protection Agency oversees whole-body disposal. The body is placed in a specialized casket and shroud and submerged in water at least 600 feet deep. 

Water burial is not without complications, and having the family present is only available at an additional cost. The logistics prove complicated for residents of landlocked states, and some states require that a funeral director is present. 

4. Burial on private land

If you or your loved one has property in a rural area, you may be able to be buried directly in the earth without a casket. Of course, this is dependent upon the state and local laws and zoning ordinances.

You may also want to check with a local real estate agent to see whether or not your need to disclose that a body is buried on the property when sold to the next owner. It’s good to be aware that this may limit your pool of buyers. 

5. Direct cremation

Do you wish not to purchase a casket for yourself or your loved one? Consider direct cremation. With this option, the deceased can be viewed by members of the immediate family at the place of death. After this, the body is taken directly to the funeral home and cremated after the appropriate paperwork is completed and submitted. 

With direct cremation, you only need a cremation casket (usually made out of sturdy cardboard). Since there is no public viewing, there is no need for the use of a traditional casket.

» MORE: Need help with funeral costs? Create a free online memorial to gather donations.

6. Water cremation

For lack of a better term, alkaline hydrolysis means water cremation. During this process, the body gets placed in a warm chemical bath. This process results in cremated remains that look similar to those of a traditional cremation. 

Water cremation is not yet available in every state, but it is being touted as an environmentally friendly form of cremation. And unlike direct cremation, it does not require a casket of any type. 

7. Biodegradable urns

Of course, once a body is cremated, either through traditional means or the new alkaline hydrolysis, the cremains must have a final resting place. Some people choose to scatter the cremains on private land or at a scattering garden, but some choose to bury the cremains or place them inside a columbarium niche. This may be a personal preference, but the Catholic church also advises it.

If you would like to have your cremated remains buried, consider using a biodegradable urn like this one. Biodegradable urns avoid casket use, and if buried in a place that does not require a vault, both the urn and the cremains return to the earth.

8. Living urns

There are many different types of urns to consider besides those that are biodegradable. To make sure you purchase the right urn for your or your loved one’s cremated remains, research how to choose an urn

Perhaps you are attracted to the idea of purchasing a living urn. These products mix the cremains with the nutrients of a living sapling. A living urn results in a healthy tree. 

How Can You Tell Loved Ones That You Don’t Want to Be Buried in a Casket?

We know that it may be difficult for you to read this, but you have little control over what happens to your body after you die. Even if you don’t want to be buried in a casket, your loved ones may choose a traditional burial for you.

However, there are things you can do to encourage your loved ones to follow your plans.

Create a funeral plan through Cake to let your desires known. Make sure you share your plan with the important people in your life so they know your desires for your end-of-life plans. Your funeral plan can be as detailed as you wish. For example, you can record your preference to be buried without a casket, as well as leave behind a list of songs you want to be performed at your services.

Once you have created a funeral plan, purchase a funeral package with a local funeral home. Explain your desire not to be buried in a casket, and make sure those preferences are recorded in your plan with the funeral home. Since some funeral home “packages” come with a casket, you might want to pre-pay for specific services that do not include this significant expense.

Purchase your burial spot at the cemetery of your choice. Make sure that burial containers are optional in the cemetery you choose. Understand that unless you are buying a burial spot at a church-owned cemetery or green cemetery, you might have to buy a vault.

Make it easy for your family members to find your plans. Share your Cake funeral plan with your family, and let them know the funeral home and cemetery you chose. Families often forget such vital things during moments of grief, so make sure you leave behind written plans in easy-to-find spots.

You might also want to include your end-of-life plans in your will, but make sure this is not the only way you record your preferences. Your will may not be read until the funeral is complete.

Finally, once you have made your plans known and left behind the appropriate documents, talk with your family members about your preferences. Explain your desire to be buried without a casket. Give reasons and answer their concerns if they seem leary about your plans. 

Even if you share your desires and pre-pay for your funeral, your family members may do as they wish. The reality is that funerals are for the family and friends of the deceased. If your family is uncomfortable with burying you without a casket, they might not follow your plan unless you make it a legal matter overseen by someone who will fulfill your wishes.

Make Your Specific Desires Known

Unless there is a specific end-of-life plan, most families make funeral plans in the following manner:

The children of the deceased go to the funeral home and pay for embalming the body. They then pay for a casket, a cemetery plot, and a vault that will hold the casket in the cemetery plot. These products and services may cost thousands of dollars, which the family is happy to pay if they think they are fulfilling the desires of a loved one.

Instead of being embalmed and placed in a metal casket (and then in a vault), a loved one may have wanted to be wrapped in a shroud and placed directly in the ground. 

If you don’t want to be buried in a casket, make sure your family understands this. Otherwise, your burial may look far different than you imagined. 

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.