Getting all the correct paperwork in order can be overwhelming, time consuming and the most difficult part of a home funeral, but only if you haven’t prepared yourself. Here’s help:
Deciding who will do the paperwork
In order to give you or other family members more time with the dying person, it can be helpful to enlist a dedicated friend to handle these responsibilities. If you want to authorize someone other than the next-of-kin to make arrangements and do the paperwork, an authorization form will need to be completed and notarized by the dying person or the next of kin, in anticiaption of death.
Things will go more smoothly if the Next-of-Kin or Authorized Person contacts the officials listed below, to inform them of your intentions. Many may not be familiar with home funerals, so advance notice will give them time to prepare.
These instructions apply to the State of Maine. For other states, look at Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum’s book Final Rights Individual State Chapters. Also, look at the Funeral Consumers Alliance “Find a Local FCA” for contact information for the local affiliate and much more helpful information.
The officials you will need to see are:
1. The Municipal Clerk in the town where death occurred, where you will get a blank death certificate form. If the body is to be cremated, also ask for a copy of the medical examiner's release form.
2. The Physician (or physicians assistant or nurse practitioner) who has knowledge of the deceased’s recent medical history or were in charge of the decedent’s care, must complete the medical section of the death certificate.
3. The Medical Examiner (not needed if the body is to be buried). To find contact information for a medical examiner in your area, call a local hospital or call the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner at (207) 624-7185 and make sure to get a list of more than one Medical Examiner in your area, and find out their office hours and availability on weekends and holidays.
4. The Municipal Clerk (again) in the town where death occurred, to file the completed death certificate and get the Disposition Permit.
5. Cemetery Official or Crematory Director to make arrangements based on your personal choices.
These are the forms you will need:
1. Certificate of Death (obtain from the municipal clerk)
Maine’s death certificate is not a form that is available to the general public. When a person handling a home funeral needs a blank death certificate, they can get one from the municipal clerk in the place of death or call the Vital Records office at (207) 287-3181.
For the first 30 questions on the Certificate of Death, you’ll need to know:
Social Security number
Date of birth
Age on last birthday
Was decedent ever in the US Armed Forces?
Residence (state, county, city or town, street, number and zip code)
Surviving spouse/partner name
Full name of both parents
Method, date and place of disposition (burial, cremation, etc.)
Decedent’s usual occupation (do not use “retired”)
The kind of business/industry and name of employer
Ancestry (you can use “American”)
Decedent of Hispanic origin?
They are very picky about this form. Every box must be filled in – typed or in black ink! Any box which does not apply or where the information is not available must be filled in with NA or N/A. If you make a mistake, use correction tape or start over. White-out or cross-outs are not acceptable.
The Next-of-Kin or Authorized Person fills in boxes 19 through 22. Enter NA in boxes 20 and 21. The "person who certifies death" (a physician, physicians assistant or nurse practitioner) who has knowledge of the deceased’s recent medical history or were in charge of the decedent’s care must complete the remainder of the death certificate. If the paperwork is being done without a funeral director, box 33 must be checked “YES” certifying that the physician (or physicians assistant or nurse practitioner) viewed the body after death. Make two photocopies of the completed form, one for your records and one for the cemetery or crematory.
2. Medical Examiner’s Release of Human Remains (obtain from the municipal clerk)
This form is not needed if the body is to be buried. It is required only when the body is to be cremated, donated, buried at sea, or shipped out of state. This form has only four boxes for you to fill in. In order to sign the form, the medical examiner will need the death certificate (number 1 above) which has been completed, except for the “Registrar’s Signature.” There is a $15 charge for this form, payable to the Medical Examiner.
Take the completed form(s) to the municipal clerk’s office in the place of death. The clerk will fax the death certificate form to the Vital Records office where the information will be entered into Maine's Electronic Death Registration System. A few days later you will be able to pick up the certified death certificates from the municipal clerk's office. You may need multiple copies – for banks, insurance companies, Social Security, veteran’s benefits, etc. Experienced people suggest that you send a photocopy to the three credit report companies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion - use this form). In this initial request, the first copy will cost $15, additional ones $6 each. Get as many as you need, as when requesting copies later, the first will cost $15, others $6. Municipal clerks usually suggest ten certificates.
3) Permit for the Disposition of Human Remains (obtain from the municipal clerk)
There are only nine boxes to fill in on this form. The clerk will sign the form and keep a copy. This form gives you official permission to transport a body. You’ll need three copies. An official person at the disposition location (cemetery, crematory) will sign the forms and keep a copy. Within seven days, you must return a copy of the completed form to the clerk’s office where you got it. The third copy is for your records.
A body may not be moved until you have the disposition permit, which may cause a problem if the death occurs on a weekend or holiday. Hospitals usually can hold the body for a day or two (ask!), but a nursing home will want the body removed promptly. You may have to call a funeral director to move the body from the nursing home. A direct cremation service will have lower overhead costs and may charge less for this service. State regulation about transporting a body is as follows: “Dead bodies shall be transported in private vehicles only by authorized persons and shall be enclosed in a suitable container made for that purpose which shall be concealed from public view.”
If the body is to be cremated, you need to take a copy of the completed death certificate, (original or certified), the Medical Examiner's release and the disposition permit with you to the crematory. The crematory will also require a permission or authority to cremate form, which they can provide.