Necessary activities

There are only four basic necessities or requirements for death care: 

1. Regulatory paperwork.  In Massachusetts, this consists of a death certificate and a transportation and disposition permit.  On the website, see Burial & Cremation: Guidelines for the issuance of burial permits and disposition of human remainsfor basic information about what must be done in Massachusetts from the time a death occurs through the final disposition of a body or ashes.

2. Handling and transportation of the body. This involves moving the body from the place of death to the place of final disposition. It may include temporary storage. Handling and transportation is usually done by a funeral home but it may be done by the family with a "transportation and disposition permit" (also known as a burial permit). That permit is required to deliver the body to a cemetery or crematory.

3. Disposition of the body, either by burial, cremation or body-donation to a qualified institution for research. For veterans, the Navy provides a Burial at Sea program.

4. Paying for all of the above. There are costs associated with the regulatory paperwork. If you use a funeral home, you must pay for their services to you.  You must pay for cremation or for a cemetery plot. If a coroner is involved, you may have to pay for body bags, removal (transportation) fees and per-day storage charges. You may have to pay for transportation to the research institute where the body is donated.  

Optional Activities

Other than the above, everything else is optional.  This may include:

  • Autopsy:  autopsies may be required depending on the circumstances of death and the ruling of the coroner/medical examiner. Families can also request autopsies. 
  • Funerals, memorial services
  • Graveside services
  • Obituaries
  • Hearses, corteges, pall bearers
  • Flowers, music
  • Caskets, coffins, urns for ashes.  Note that coffins or burial/cremation containers may be required by the cemetery or crematory, but are not a legal requirement.
  • Disposition of ashes.