How Long Can You Delay a Funeral After Death?

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You might need to delay a loved one’s funeral. Maybe you’d like to give guests time to make travel plans. Maybe you need to find the funds to bury your loved one. The death also could have occurred during the holidays and you might not want to disrupt other people’s celebrations. 

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Regardless of the reason, there are things to consider before you wait a great deal of time between the death of your loved one and the funeral. This is especially true if you plan to have a viewing of the body during the visitation or an open casket funeral. 

Average Time Between Death and a Funeral

The average time between death and the funeral is three to seven days in the U.S. This can vary from state to state or city to city. Scheduling a funeral may be more difficult in large cities, but smaller towns may get you into a church or funeral home sooner.

It might take longer if the body needs to be transported between states or countries. 

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Reasons a Family Might Want to Delay a Funeral After Death

Most people prefer to have a funeral within a week of a loved one’s death and others may choose to delay the services. Here are a few reasons why you might want to wait:

  • A family member might live overseas or serve at an international post for the military. Since international travel is expensive and may require planning, a family may want to delay the funeral until this person is able to get back to the U.S.
  • Maybe a family member is about to have a baby and planning a funeral may be difficult to do until the baby is born.
  • Your family might not want your loved one to be buried close to a wedding, graduation, birthday, or anniversary celebration. 
  • Maybe your loved one died in the middle of the winter. You may want to put off having a funeral so a blizzard won’t disrupt the event. 
  • You may postpone a funeral until you feel as if you are mentally prepared to deal with the trauma of the event. This may be especially true if the death was traumatic in nature. Family members may not be physically or mentally ready to deal with planning and attending a funeral.
  • There may be extenuating circumstances surrounding the death. The family might have to wait until an investigation is complete before planning a funeral. 

No matter what, it’s important to realize that the delay may force you to cremate the body instead of burying the body. These types of laws vary from state to state.

The Tasks that Need to be Completed After a Person Dies

The time between death and a funeral is usually between three to seven days and a lot of tasks must be completed in that short timeframe. Those working in the funeral industry complete most of them. However, there are other tasks that family and friends must complete before services can take place.

Required paperwork must be completed

First, a pronouncement of death form is filled out. This is not to be confused by a death certificate, which is usually filled out by a medical professional. 

Second, arrangements are made to transport the body to a funeral home or coroner’s office. In some cases, the body may be transported to the home if the family plans to have a home burial.

Finally, if the body is taken to the funeral home, the funeral director fills out a death registration form. The deceased’s family provides demographic information for the form and a medical professional provides the cause of death. This form and the burial permit form are submitted to the county for approval. The county then releases the official death certificate.

The funeral planning will be delayed if there are any complications with these processes.

Other complications may cause delays

  • Let’s say you intend to donate the body to science. Arrangements need to be made sooner rather than later. The embalming process is sometimes different for that than a traditional viewing and burial. 
  • Many people choose to donate their organs. Your loved one may make this decision and it shouldn’t cause too much of a delay between the death and the funeral. The organs are removed quickly after death and the funeral planning process should continue normally.
  • Autopsies are required if a person’s death was unexpected or suspicious. The body is removed from the place of death to the coroner’s office for an autopsy. The body can then be released to the funeral home and the process can continue.

The body must be embalmed or refrigerated

The appropriate officials fill out the necessary paperwork and the body will either be refrigerated or embalmed. If there are no plans for public viewing, or if the body is going to be cremated, the family members can choose not to embalm a loved one’s body. If embalming is not completed, the body will be preserved in a large refrigerator. The family will be charged for refrigeration.

The body should be embalmed within 48 hours of death if the family plans to have a public viewing of the body. Each state has its own laws regarding the length of time that can pass between death and embalming. You shouldn’t wait for more than a week before embalming.

Next, the funeral home dresses and prepares the body to be viewed. 

Plans must be made for the visitation, funeral, and burial

Many decisions need to be made for a loved one’s end of life services. Here are a few steps you’ll need to take:

  1. The family needs to pick out the date, time, and location of the funeral services with the help of the funeral director. They need to decide if there will be a visitation or wake. They will need to decide whether or not there will be a graveside service as well.
  2. Family members will need to choose the method of burial. They will need to pick out a casket (burial) or an urn (for cremation). 
  3. Usually, the officiant leading the funeral meets with the family to discuss the details surrounding the end of life services. He or she may ask the family about the details of the deceased’s life. 
  4. Someone needs to write the obituary and make decisions about the funeral service. The family may need to decide on music, pallbearers, flower displays, and even the cover for the funeral service program. 
  5. A eulogy will need to be written if a family member is planning to deliver the eulogy
  6. Some families choose to have photo displays set up for a loved one’s funeral. Selecting and gathering these photos may take time. 
  7. It’s common for family members to pause periodically to mourn their loss during the flurry of activity. In fact, one reason planning a memorial service is so difficult is because many families have a tough time making choices while they are hurting so much. 

Laws for Funeral Homes Holding Bodies Before a Burial or Cremation

There aren’t any federal regulations that dictate how long a body must be held before burial or cremation but most states say that a body cannot be cremated within 24 or 48 hours after death. This timeframe may be shortened if there is a public health concern. The timeframe not only varies from state to state, but it also can vary among counties as well.

No states require embalming, but an unembalmed body must be buried or cremated within a specific amount of time. That time requirement varies from state to state.

Some states require your loved one to be embalmed if he or she died from an infectious disease or if he or she has crossed state lines. 

Doing What Makes Sense for Your Loved One

Your family may have a specific reason for delaying the funeral of a loved one. Perhaps it is because of travel or weather concerns. Maybe a graduation, a wedding, or the impending birth of a baby is cause for the delay. Perhaps extenuating circumstances have put your plans on pause. Other participants should respect the choices of the family members during this difficult time. 

The funeral process provides closure and allows friends and loved ones to say a final goodbye. That’s why it’s often a good idea to have a funeral or memorial service sooner rather than later.