Frequently asked questions

The following are some ‘Frequently asked questions’ about funeral arrangements, cremations, and the FCASCP.  If you have questions that are not answered here, we suggest checking out some of the other organizations mentioned throughout our site.  Also, you may feel free to email questions to us at this site (fcascp@fcaofsouthcentralpa).  While we may not answer all questions received in this section, we will answer the ones most frequently received by us in this space.  



  • What considerations apply for veterans?

All veterans are entitled to burial in a national cemetery, a granite or marble headstone (regardless of the cemetery) and a flag.  There are no charges for opening or closing the grave, a vault or liner, or setting the marker in a national cemetery.  All other mortuary and transportation expenses are the responsibility of the family. 

A spouse and dependents of an eligible veteran are entitled to a lot and marker in a national cemetery, even if the veteran is not buried there.  There are a number of others eligible for veterans benefits if the person has provided military-related service.

Further information on veterans’ eligibility (including spouses and dependents), and on funeral and burial benefits, are thoroughly described in the brochure “Veteran’s Funeral and Burial Benefits, What You Get and What You Don’t”.   It is available from the Funeral Consumers Alliance{link to}.  To reach the regional Veterans office in your area call 800-827-1000 or visit{link}.

  •  Is use of a funeral director or funeral home required by law?

No.  In Pennsylvania, a family member can (1) act in lieu of a funeral director to orchestrate all arrangements and carry out all decisions; (2) fill out and file end-of-life documentation; (3) transport their deceased loved one to a home, place of ceremony, crematory or cemetery.  [also to site of home burial?? Legal citation?] While the same statutes that funeral directors must follow do apply, it is legal for a family member or designated agent to take charge of any or all of after-death care arrangements. 

  • How soon does the body have to go into the ground?

Legally, burial isn’t even required; after-death care is what the Pennsylvania law addresses.  The body must be “buried, embalmed, or refrigerated” within 24 hours of death.  [legal citation???]  Refrigeration is a way of keeping the body below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; most funeral homes have coolers [walk-in? other? “coolers”—not refrigerators?]  Refrigeration could also be done with dry ice, with gel packs, or with regular ice in bags, or simply by turning air conditioning to its coldest setting—each for preservation during a three-day home farewell.   Also see Steps in Doing It Yourself #8 {link}

  • Is embalming required?

Almost never.  Only when death resulted from particular infectious diseases or in cases in which the body must be shipped out of the state is embalming required.  [By statute?? Citation?]  Generally, refrigeration after 24 hours is sufficient.  The modern practice of embalming began during the Civil War, for bodies shipped long distances.  By 1920 almost all bodies in the U.S. were embalmed.  The practice is still rare in other countries.

  • Is a casket required for cremation?

No.  Most crematories, however, do require that the body be encased in some kind of rigid container.  The Federal Trade Commission Rule of 1984 requires that undertaking establishments make available an unfinished wooden box or a similar inexpensive cremation container.  [At a price?]  Customers may furnish their own containers.  [does the container become part of the ashes/cremains??]

  • Are there any restrictions on where ashes (cremains) can be scattered or buried?

No, not if on public land or waterways.  However, it would be appropriate to do so discretely and privately.  If on private land, Pennsylvania statute requires that you have permission from the land owner.

  • What if death occurs while the individual is being transported to the emergency room, or is at the hospital, or at a nursing home?

This actually makes obtaining a death certificate easier [why/how???].  However, you must have a Transit Permit from your local Office of Vital Statistics [what/where is this?]for the body to be moved back home or to the burial ground.  A fee-for-service agreement could also be made with a local funeral director, which would include obtaining the transit permit.

With a transit permit, and the Medical Examiner’s Office having declined jurisdiction [English translation please?], the body must be released to family on request.  [legal citation??]  Resist any pressure to release the body only to a funeral home if those are not your wishes.  If an offer is made to transport the body for you, the point-to-point cost of transportation should be obtained, in writing, before accepting.  A family member’s [must the family member own such? Or is using one the point?] personal van, sports utility vehicle, or pickup truck are all perfectly normal means for transport at a savings which can be thousands of dollars [???].

  • Are there any situations where a funeral home or director can legally make claim to a body despite the wishes of family members or the deceased’s designated agent?

No.  Only when the county or state has contracted with a business for the handling of unclaimed bodies, as when the next-of-kin cannot be notified, is such claim legal.

  • What are the advantages of insurance assignment?

Insurance assignment refers to assigning a life insurance payment over to a funeral home.  When this is done, the funeral establishment can adjust the services provided to fit the amount of insurance received from the family, taking into account the profit to be made.  The choice of casket, monument, and all other services can be affected.  Some families may see advantage in limiting their involvement in decision-making during a time of grief. 

  • What is meant by the term “traditional burial”?

A traditional burial is one performed by family members and friends.  Current burial practices involving the funeral home business are relatively new.  The traditional burial goes back thousands of years.  Because a traditional burial generates little if any profit, there is no persistent marketing to keep it in the public eye.  Also see Bury on rural ground or in a green cemetery{link, Opeions in making arrangements} [Is this specific Q&A consistent with all other statements on our website?]