State Laws on Transporting Bodies For Burials
Published March 18, 2020
What happens if someone dies in one state but wants to be buried in another?
In this era of globalization, it’s not unusual for someone to die away from home. In the same manner, it’s common for people to choose their hometown as their final resting place after years of toiling away in the city.
In these instances, their bodies may have to be transported between state lines. Most of the time, you can contact a funeral service provider to make transportation arrangements. But this can be costly. Besides, not all funeral services are capable nor willing to make such arrangements.
You see, transporting bodies for burials between states is not that easy. In the interest of public safety, there are various federal and state laws in place that you have to follow. And different states may have different requirements for transporting the deceased.
To avoid getting into any legal trouble, make sure you are following all the relevant state laws on transporting deceased bodies. Check the laws of the state where the person died and the state where they’ll be buried. You or the funeral director will also have to secure a burial transit permit to ensure that the body will be properly cared for at the destination.
Here are the most common state requirements or state laws on transporting deceased bodies you need to watch out for.
Embalming laws can vary widely per state. Most states require deceased bodies to be embalmed before they are transported. Others require that they are embalmed before they are allowed entry into the state.
In Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona, embalming is required when a body is crossing state lines. While in California, Minnesota, Kansas, New Jersey, and Idaho, embalming is required only if the body will be transported by public transport such as trains and airplanes. Here is a more detailed look at the embalming laws per state.
Some states also require that you wait at least 24 hours before embalming the body. In Nevada and Minnesota, the waiting period even lasts for 72 hours.
Deceased bodies are usually flown in cargo planes. But if you want to escort the body, you need to arrange for it to be on the same passenger plane you’ll be traveling on. Not all airlines accept this type of cargo though, so be sure to check with your airline first before finalizing your plans. United Airlines may also charge a “bereavement fare” for family members accompanying the remains.
The TSA has a lot of special requirements for shipping human remains by air. One particular rule is that those who wish to ship human remains must be approved as “known shippers”. And some airline companies only work with funeral homes that are on their list of known shippers. This makes it virtually impossible for you to arrange the shipment yourself.
Aside from embalming, most airlines require that remains are placed in an approved casket or container.
American Airlines specifically require that they be in a hermetically-sealed casket. It must also be placed in an outer container made of canvas, wood, plastic or paperboard.
Delta Airlines, on the other hand, is much more flexible. They accept both embalmed and unembalmed remains. They also allow a wide range of containers from caskets, dry ice, gel packs to Zeigler cases.
All containers should be properly labeled with the airway bill number, name of the deceased and destination.
Shipping human remains by land is probably the most cost-effective way of transporting a body for burial.
If you’ve contacted a funeral home, they’ll usually arrange for their vehicle to pick-up the body. Depending on the destination, they may also tap the services of an approved carrier. Most funeral homes charge ground transportation fee at a per loaded mile rate.
For long-distance ground transport, rail companies also accept human remains as cargo. Amtrak offers station-to-station shipment of remains to many express cities across the US. But the shipper must provide someone to load and unload the remains in both stations. Funeral homes usually charge a ship-out fee on top of the rail shipment fee from the embarkation to the destination station.
Can You Use Your Own Car?
Yes, you can use your own car to transport a body for out-of-state burials. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to follow state laws on transporting bodies for burials.
First off, you need to secure burial transit permits. This is a personal record of the deceased’s personal information, where the person died and cause of death. It must be accompanied by a death certificate.
If you are crossing a state where embalming is required, it’s best to contact a funeral home first. Some states may refrigeration or encapsulation instead of embalming. But most private vehicles are not equipped to handle such (unless of course you’re willing to outfit your car specifically for this purpose).
For sanitary purposes, the law also requires the body to be placed in a properly sealed and appropriate container. You may also have to prove you have enough space to move and store the body safely.
Other Body Transportation Options
With all the restrictions concerning the transport of human remains, cremating them is much more convenient. If cremation is not against your personal conviction or religion, it makes for a more practical option. You can even bring cremated remains for burial abroad without much hassle. (Related: 8 Things You Should Know About Cremation)
Burial options for cremated remains are also much more flexible. You can bury it in a place important to the deceased or even tap a scattering of ashes at sea service.