Caring for Your Own Dead in South Carolina
A Guide for Helping Families Find Their Way through the Funeral Maze
Why would anyone want to do this?
Some may wish to do this because it seems more fitting and personal for them to care for their
own dead rather than turning the body over to a funeral home. Other than embalming, which is
never required by law, there is nothing that a funeral director can do that anyone acting as such
cannot do for themselves. For most of our history, the family took the responsibility for caring
for their own dead. Over recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in reclaiming this
Another reason may be financial. The average cost of a funeral, not including any cemetery
costs are now more than $6,500. With caskets readily available on the internet—or by building
one yourself—it is possible to provide a meaningful and dignified funeral for a fraction of that
Is it legal?
There is nothing in the South Carolina Code (laws) that requires the use of a funeral director.
The situation is governed by the Code of Regulations 61-19.
If you act as the funeral director, you must complete and file a death certificate within five days
of the death with the registrar of the county in which the death occurred. You will fill out the
biographical details, and you'll need to get the signature of the attending physician or family
physician, if any. If not, you’ll need the death certified by the county coroner.
In order to transport a dead body it is necessary to obtain a Burial-Removal-Transit (BRT) permit
which, according to Section 23 of the Regulations “…shall be issued by a subregistrar or the
coroner in the county in which death occurred.”
The county coroner is legally required to review all deaths if a person dies 1) as a result of
violence; 2) as a result of apparent homicide; 3) when in apparent good health; 4) when
unattended by a physician; 5) in any suspicious or unusual manner; 6) while an inmate of a
penal or correctional institution; or, 7) as a result of stillbirth when unattended by a physician.
The county coroner is authorized to issue a BRT permit to the person or persons authorized to
handle the final disposition. Some hospitals may have a policy of referring all such requests to
the coroner regardless of the circumstances under which the death occurred.
Most deaths that would typically occur in a hospital or under hospice care—whether at home or
in a hospice facility—would not be coroner’s cases, but (at least in some counties) coroners
expect them to be reported. It’s best to check with the coroner’s office in advance if possible.
Some hospices have been designated by the South Carolina Department of Health and
Environmental Control (DHEC) as subregistrars and can issue a BRT permit. Some coroners may
also, be willing to issue permits in such instances.
What barriers may be confronted?
If one is interested in caring for their own dead it’s important to plan ahead. While the practice
is legal in almost every state in the country, it’s still relatively rare and you may encounter
barriers—some because of ignorance and others of intent.
While doing the research for this brochure we learned that “some” hospitals will release a body
only to a funeral director or his/her removal service. While this is a violation of the law, it can
be a daunting barrier for most families.
So, too, with some coroners. Because in some South Carolina counties, the coroner may also be
a funeral director, s/he may be unwilling to cooperate with a request to bypass services in which
they or other funeral directors have a financial interest.
Because of such concerns, it is highly advisable to make one’s wishes known as far in advance of
death as possible.
If you encounter problems such as this and there is time to intervene, the Funeral Consumers
Alliance—either the SC affiliate or the national office—may be able to assist you. We would
certainly like to be notified. The information for contacting FCA or FCASC is found either in the
Links or the About Us pages of this website.
Unless and until hospitals become more accustomed to handling such requests, you are likely to
be met with confused or otherwise uncooperative staff.
How can the body be transported?
Once arrangements have been made with either the cemetery or the crematory, the body can be
placed into a suitable container and loaded into an SUV, van, or truck. Most crematories require
that the body arrives in a casket or alternative container so that their staff need not handle the
Most cemeteries may require an outer burial container (vault), but it may be possible to
negotiate exceptions to this. Again, the key to all of this is making sure that you have planned
well in advance.
Where can I get additional information?
Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (2011) This book, by Joshua Slocum and
Lisa Carlson is a successor to two earlier volumes published in 1987 and 1998. It is a complete
guide to understanding your options and your rights regarding caring for the dead. Copies are
available through FCA at http://www.funerals.org.
A Family Undertaking
A documentary film on home funerals was first broadcast on SCETV in 2005. Available on DVD
from FCA at http://www.funerals.org/.
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of
Burial. (New York: Scribner, 2007) This excellent book by Mark Harris is available at a discount
from FCA. http://www.funerals.org
A website devoted to “green and loving family-directed home funerals.”
“Caring for our own at death: renewing simplicity and sanctity at the transition time of death.”