The information presented below is offered by The Old Pine Box as a guide for families wishing to exercise their right to have a home funeral or care for their own dead.
PLEASE NOTE: While we have made every effort to be as accurate and helpful as possible we cannot guarantee all of this information hasn’t changed. Please utilize the various links we have provided for additional resources.
IMPORTANT: Families wishing to direct their own funerals should always contact, as far in advance as possible, whatever authorities will be involved. If you wish to care for your own dead it is vital that you research and understand fully your responsibilities and that you follow all procedures correctly.
Below is an outline of steps involved to perform a family funeral in New Mexico.
Performing a FAMILY DIRECTED FUNERAL in the STATE of NEW MEXICO
Step 1) OBTAINING MEDICAL CERTIFICATION OF DEATH
- WHEN DEATH IS EXPECTED
- Death in Hospital/Nursing Home – The Medical Certifier portion of the Death Certificate will be completed inaccordance with the medical institutions policy and provided to Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) by electronic filing.
- Death at Home under Hospice Care – Note time of death so this information can be given to the Hospice nurse. Call Hospice so they can send a nurse who will officially pronounce the death and contact the attending physician. The attending physician will complete the Medical Certifier portion of the Death Certificate and file it electronically with Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- WHEN DEATH IS UNEXPECTED
- Death at Hospital – The Medical Certifier portion of the Death Certificate will be completed by the appropriatemedical staff and filed electronically with Bureau of Vital Statistics. If cause of death cannot be determined at the hospital the case must be referred to the Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) who will complete the Medical Certifier portion of the Death Certificate and file it electronically with Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- Death at Home – If cause of death cannot be provided by decedent’s physician the body must be taken to OMI who will complete the Medical Certifier portion of the Death Certificate and file it electronically with Bureau of Vital Statistics.
- Other – OMI will complete the Medical Certifier portion after determining cause of death from autopsy or if cause of death is “Pending” and issue the Death Certificate to the person acting as funeral service practitioner.
Step 2) COMPLETING THE DEATH CERTIFICATE
The person acting as funeral service practitioner must contact the local Public Health Office or the Office of NM Vital Records & Health Statistics at (505) 827-0121 located at 1105 S. St Frances Dr., PO Box 26110, Santa Fe, NM 87502-6110. Provide the decedent’s information required for the Death Certificate.
This information will electronically be joined with the Medical Certifier portion to complete the Death Certificate. When providing information for completing the Death Certificate it is extremely important all entries are correct. Changes may not be made to a completed certificate. Assistance in compiling the correct information, or a copy of the NM Department of Health Death Certificate Manual, can be obtained from the Office of NM Vital Records & Health Statistics, Epidemiology & Response Division, (505)827-2532, located at 1105 St. Francis Dr., Santa Fe, NM 87505. The completed Death Certificate must be filed with the local or state registrar within 5 days of the date of death and prior to final disposition.
NMSA 24-14-20-B. Death registration. The funeral service practitioner or person acting as a funeral service practitioner who first assumes custody of a dead body shall file the death certificate. He shall obtain the personal data from the next of kin or the best qualified person or source available. He shall obtain the medical certification of cause of death.(Note: Effective 15 October 2007, the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the state of New Mexico incorporated an electronic filing system for medical certification and registration of deaths)
NMSA 24-14-20-A. Death registration. A death certificate for each death that occurs in this state shall be filed within five days after the death and prior to final disposition. The death certificate shall be registered by the state registrar.
NMSA 24-14-20-A.(1) Death registration. If the place of death is unknown but the dead body is found in this state, a death certificate shall be filed with a local registrar within ten days after the occurrence. The place where the body is found shall be shown as the place of death. If the date of death is unknown, it shall be approximated by the state medical investigator.
NMSA 24-14-24-A. Extension of time. The department may, by regulation and upon conditions as it may prescribe to assure compliance with the purposes of the Vital Statistics Act, provide for the extension of the periods prescribed in Sections 24-14-20, 24-14-22 and 24-14-23 NMSA 1978 for the filing of death certificates, spontaneous fetal death reports, medical certifications of cause of death and for the obtaining of burial-transit permits in cases where compliance with the applicable prescribed period would result in undue hardship.
Step 3) OBTAIN BURIAL TRANSIT PERMIT
You will need a Transit Permit issued by the state or local registrar if you plan to transport the body yourself. You should have a copy of the completed Death Certificate in-hand when obtaining the Transit Permit. OMI will providea transportation permit for removals from their facility.
NMSA 24-14-23-B. Permits; authorization for final disposition. A burial-transit permit shall be issued by the state registrar or a local registrar for those bodies which are to be transported out of the state for final disposition or when final disposition is being made by a person other than a funeral service practitioner or direct disposer.
NMSA 24-14-24-B. Extension of time. Regulations of the department may provide for the issuance of a burial-transit permit prior to the filing of a death certificate upon conditions designed to assure compliance with the purposes of the Vital Statistics Act in cases herer compliance with the requirement that the certificate be filed prior to the issuance of the permit would result in undue hardship.
Step 4) DETERMINE DISPOSITION and TYPE OF MEMORIAL SERVICE.
- Cremation – Obtain a cremation permit from the state medical investigator. If the decedent did not provide written authorization for cremation then cremation will be authorized in accordance with NMSA 24-12A-2. Ensure you make arrangements with a crematory that will accept bodies from family members.
NMSA 24-14-23-E. Permits; authorization for final disposition. A permit for cremation of a body shall be required prior to the cremation. The permit shall be issued by the state medical investigator to a licensed funeral service practitioner, direct disposer or any other person who makes the arrangements for final disposition.
NMSA 24-12A-2. No written instructions; priority of others to decide disposition. If a decedent has left no written instructions regarding the disposition of his remains, the following persons in the order listed shall determine the means of disposition, not to be limited to cremation, of the remains of the decedent: A. the surviving spouse; B. a majority of the surviving adult children of the decedent; C. the surviving parents of the decedent; D. a majority of the surviving siblings of the decedent; E. an adult who has exhibited special care and concern for the decedent, who is aware of the decedent’s views and desires regarding the disposition of his body and who is willing and able to make a decision about the disposition of the decedent’s body; or F. the adult person of the next degree of kinship in the order named by New Mexico law to inherit the estate of the decedent.
- Burial – Make arrangements with a cemetery that will accept bodies from family members. If the burial is to occur on personal property contact the County Manager’s Officer to identify requirements specific to your area/county.
Step 5) CARE OF THE BODY
The body of the decedent may be left undisturbed for up to 24 hours. If final disposition has not occurred within 24 hours, the body must be embalmed or refrigerated to a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigeration at home may be accomplished with the use of sufficient packs of dry ice surrounding the body.
There is no federal or local law that requires embalming under normal circumstances. Embalming or a sealed casket may be required if death was the result of a contagious disease. You should consult the Office of the Medical Investigator under such circumstances.
This information was derived from New Mexico Statutes and the New Mexico
Department of Health Death Certificate Manual, revised November 2005. It was reviewed
by The Office of the Medical Investigator for the state of New Mexico in August 2007.
The legal right to care for your own dead in the state of New Mexico is found in the
Title 24-14-20: Death Registration.
The funeral service practitioner or person acting as a funeral service practitioner who first
assumes custody of the dead body shall file the death certificate.
Title 24-14-23: Permits
A burial-transit permit shall be issued by the state registrar or a local registrar for those
bodies which are to be transported out of the state for final disposition or when final
disposition is being made by a person other than a funeral service practitioner or direct
Additional information can be obtained from “Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way
of Death” by Lisa Carlson and Joshua Slocum, published by and available from Upper