How Long After Someone Dies Is the Viewing? The Answer

While funeral services are typically formal events, viewings are informal gatherings where loved ones can spend time with the body of the deceased prior to burial or cremation. When a family decides to hold a viewing, most opt to do it sooner rather than later. However, in many cases, relatives must postpone a viewing for one reason or another.

Viewings typically occur within a week of the death date, although some families may delay the viewing for two weeks or more. It may take longer to hold a viewing if the cause of death is suspicious or unknown. On the other hand, viewings may require expedition in the case of communicable illness.

This article discusses how long families can wait to host a viewing and how post-mortem body preservation methods factor into the viewing process. Additionally, it covers circumstances that may delay or expedite a viewing. Read on to learn more.

How Long Can You Postpone a Viewing?

You can postpone a viewing for as long as the body remains preserved. Embalming preserves a body for up to two weeks, whereas refrigeration may prevent decomposition for up to four weeks. However, some states do not allow refrigeration as a body preservation method.

In the United States, viewings typically occur immediately before or after the funeral service, usually within a week or two after death. The majority of families host a viewing within a month. There are no specific laws dictating when or if a viewing must take place.

Funeral homes generally recommend holding a viewing as soon as possible after death. While there are preservation methods to give families more time to plan services, these methods do not prevent the body’s deterioration — they simply prolong it.

Body Preservation for a Viewing

There are two standard methods for body preservation in the United States. By slowing the body’s deterioration, preservation allows families to extend the time between death and a viewing, making it unnecessary to rush the already overwhelming process.


Embalming is a method of preservation involving the use of chemicals (usually formaldehyde) to clean the body, slow decomposition, and reduce odors associated with decay. In addition, embalming helps restore the face to a more natural appearance post-mortem.

The majority of funeral homes in the United States recommend embalming for viewing, particularly if the family scheduled the viewing over 24 hours after death. In fact, some funeral homes prohibit public viewings without embalming.

No laws explicitly require embalming, but funeral homes often set their own regulations regarding body preservation.

Embalming services serve several purposes, including:

  • Public Health and Safety Considerations
  • Liability Reasons
  • Embalming Slows Decomposition

When morticians embalm bodies, it preserves the body for up to two weeks. However, most funeral homes recommend hosting a viewing within a week after embalming.


Refrigeration slows the decomposition process by keeping the body at a constant temperature of 35.6°F (2°C). It can preserve a body for up to four weeks, giving the family additional time to plan a viewing. Morticians may provide refrigeration in combination with embalming to delay decomposition even longer.

Some families choose to forgo embalming altogether, opting for refrigeration only. However, some states do not allow refrigeration as a body preservation method.

Reasons for Delaying a Viewing

As discussed throughout this article, most viewings occur within a week after death. In certain circumstances, however, families may need to delay the viewing. In this section, we’ll look at several situations that may cause a family to postpone the service.

Location of the Body

When death occurs outside the location where the deceased lives, the family must arrange to have the body transported back. Different countries and states have their own rules and regulations regarding the transportation of bodies across borders. Funeral homes usually handle the legal and technical details of transporting a body after death.

Unknown or Suspicious Cause of Death

If the deceased’s cause of death is ruled suspicious or unknown, a coroner might need to perform a post-mortem examination. Additionally, if the police open an inquest into the case, the investigation may lengthen the time it takes for the family to obtain possession of the body, ultimately delaying the viewing.

Planning the Service

Planning an end-of-life service for a loved one is an overwhelming and emotionally draining process. Families must work closely with the funeral home to perform dozens of tasks, including arranging transportation of the body, deciding on a preservation and disposition method, and all of the finer details that go into preparing for a funeral and viewing.

It’s not uncommon for relatives to insist that the event be perfect, down to the finest details. As such, they may need more time for planning.

Additionally, family disagreements may hinder the process. During times of grief, emotions run high, so there are bound to be rifts. Family members may have differing opinions on how to plan the viewing. If there is no way, relatives might even find themselves in court, postponing the viewing even longer.

Final Wishes

If the deceased organized their affairs prior to death, families may find that their funeral and viewing wishes require more time to plan than anticipated. It could be that the deceased chose a specific date for their viewing or even a particular location. This may require the family to wait  to fulfill their loved one’s last wishes. Unfortunately, waiting to hold a funeral or viewing before disposition can put financial strain on the family, as it costs money to store the body.


As callous as it sounds, people have jobs, lives, and families of their own, and their schedules may not have enough availability to attend the viewing on a specific day. Most deaths are unexpected and can interfere with pre-arranged plans, such as vacations, business trips, weddings, or other events planned far in advance. While it’s important for families to make a concerted effort to attend a loved one’s viewing, sometimes life has other plans.

Not only that, but even funeral directors may not be available whenever a loved one passes. In either circumstance, families may need to delay the viewing until everyone is on board with a specific date and time.

Out-of-Town Relatives

Families may choose to delay a viewing if multiple friends or family members live out of the state or country. In that case, the viewing might require postponing for up to two weeks to allow loved ones to make travel plans, order plane tickets, book hotels, and get other affairs in order (i.e., requesting time off, boarding pets, etc.) prior to traveling.

Departed Christian loved one in casket with a rosary in his hands at a funeral home

Infectious Disease May Force Families to Expedite a Viewing

Bodies with highly contagious diseases require careful post-mortem handling. Morticians treat these bodies with extreme caution to ensure their safety and maintain their own health.

Some funeral homes may refuse to embalm or prepare a body infected with a communicable disease, including washing, dressing, and applying makeup. In some cases, the state’s Public Health Department may have regulations regarding the disposition of bodies with communicable diseases.

Contrary to popular belief, embalming does not protect the public from communicable diseases. However, a viewing may still be allowed — but they must occur in haste.

Without embalming procedures, the human body breaks down quickly, beginning immediately after death. Those who wish to view the deceased should do so within twenty-four hours. One to three days after death, the body begins emitting pungent odors, and after more than three days, decomposition becomes readily apparent.

Families should note that a body with communicable illness may require placement in a sealed bag inside the casket. Burial may require a specially sealed casket to prevent the possible spread of infection.


Viewings provide family and friends with the opportunity to spend one last moment with their deceased loved one prior to interment or cremation. While most viewings take place within a week or two of death, it’s not uncommon for families to delay the service due to extenuating circumstances. Whether you attend an early or late viewing, many feel it’s a necessary step in the grieving process, allowing them to say their goodbyes and find closure.


Was this post helpful?

Useful? Save information for later by printing or sharing.

Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

Recent Posts

Table of Contents