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 practice.
Another reason may be financial. The average cost of a funeral, not including any cemetery costs, is 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 price.
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
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
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 a SUV, van, or truck. Most crematories require that the body arrive in a casket or
alternative container so that their staff need not handle the body directly.
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 that was first broadcast on SCETV in 2005. Available on DVD from FCA at
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.”