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A Return to At-Home Burial: Funeral Home Start-Ups Embrace a Past Burial Tradition

For the past six or seven decades, funeral homes have been the standard location for conducting funeral rites for loved ones passed. However, this standard practice sometimes prevents the family of the deceased from being involved in the funeral preparations and ritual. Start-ups are trying to change that, mainly by re-introducing and assisting with an age-old type of funeral rites: at-home funerals.

Undertaking LA, a start-up based in Los Angeles, California, is a funeral business that primarily assists clients with at-home funeral and burial preparations. The company was founded by Amber Carvaly and Caitlin Doughty in the summer of 2015, and since then has been an important source information for persons who seek to conduct at-home funerals or burial preparations. The two women have helped answer questions ranging from how to wash and dress a body to how to fill out death certificates and transportation paperwork.

Undertaking LA is just one entity of a group that is trying to make people more aware of the option for home funerals. All but ten states allow for people to conduct their own funerals in the home (in the ten exception states, hiring a funeral director is required). According to Kateyanne Unullsi, a board member of the National Home Funeral Alliance, the positives of a home funeral is that “’[i]t’s more natural. It’s also about reducing cost, but more than anything it’s the need to be more hands-on.’”

Unlike the high standard funeral home price of a funeral (the median cost of a funeral and burial arranged by a funeral home in 2014 was $8,508), the cost of an at-home, self-conducted funeral can be $100 for less. Undertaking LA offers assistance with this do-it-yourself method, but for a small price as compared to funeral homes. For a home funeral service, which includes a three-hour visit, a service fee, and assistance with body preparations, the company charges $996. For a three-hour in-office consultation on how to prepare a body and fill out necessary paperwork, the company charges $30. For a witness cremation, where the family provides the coffin and helps initiate the cremation process at the company’s location, Undertaking LA charges $1,470. The company also provides a small selection of simple coffins for retail, if a family does not provide their own.

Undertaking LA, while unusual as compared to standard funeral homes, operates within the bounds of California funeral law. Besides not requiring persons to hire a funeral director to prepare a body for burial, California law does not require that funeral homes be outfitted with either an embalming room or a coffin display room. In addition, Ms. Carvaly and Ms. Doughty are licensed California funeral directors under the California’s Business and Professions Code, which outlines the scope of what actions a funeral director engages in. While technically funeral directors, Ms. Carvaly and Ms. Doughty merely aid persons with conducting their own independent home funerals by giving advice to families and sometimes providing hands-on assistance with body preparation services.

Undertaking LA seems to have embraced a possible future for the funeral home industry, as many become more frustrated with standard funeral and burial costs. Hopefully, more start-ups across the U.S. (such as this one in Brooklyn) will begin to embrace this cost-friendly, environmentally-friendly, and family-oriented form of funeral rites.

Nina Banfield

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