How Long Can a Body Be Refrigerated Before Cremation?

With so many different rules regarding the preservation of a dead body, it can be difficult to keep up with proper timeframes. Different states and even different counties within a state can have their own set of rules regarding how a mortician treats a dead body.

There is no set limit for how long a body can be refrigerated before cremation. However, there are state laws regarding the maximum amount of time a mortician can refrigerate a body without embalming and allow the family to view it.

Let’s discuss the state requirements for caring for a dead body in further detail and why it may be necessary to delay a cremation.

Why Are There No Rules for How Long a Body Can Be Refrigerated Before Cremation?

There are no set rules for how long a body can be refrigerated before cremation because refrigeration helps preserve the body. So, families can take their time deciding on cremation or burying their loved ones while the mortician safely stores the body.

Laws regarding death and funerals vary from state to state and sometimes can differ between counties in the same state. So, it is difficult to answer specific questions about the funeral process because so much information can vary. One thing that we do know is that there are currently no state laws regarding a maximum wait time for cremation.

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Refrigeration Is Effective

Refrigerating a body can help preserve it for about three to four weeks. Since the refrigeration process delays decomposition rather than stopping it altogether, this is about how long they will hold a body before it begins to decay. During this time period and after, the family can choose to have the body cremated.

After the three to four-week period is over, the funeral director may begin to ask the family to move forward with a decision for the deceased. However you decide to move forward is up to you, but you can wait longer if you are still weighing the decision. You can expect the funeral home to contact you about your decision regularly while the body is in their care.

Giving Families Time To Plan

Another reason that there are no rules for how long funeral homes can hold a body is to give the family time to plan and decide what they want to do. If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one and planned their funeral, you know that the entire process can seem rushed.

You may feel that you need to hurry up and make the necessary arrangements for your loved ones to ensure that they are put to rest quickly, but this isn’t the case. When deciding if cremation is the right choice for your loved one, it is acceptable to temporarily have them refrigerated and held in the funeral home.

Something that is rarely encouraged when planning arrangements for a deceased loved one is taking your time. We often rush to have a funeral to ensure that their body remains preserved and intact. Then we rush to finish the process by burying or cremating them. While this may seem like it helps us move on, it can also lead to careless decisions.

The Pandemic Delayed Funeral Services

During the COVID-19 pandemic, families often could not gather to memorialize lost loved ones due to restrictions. Many families during this time placed funerals on hold until the state lifted restrictions and family members could come together to mourn the deceased.

Putting a time constraint on families during this time would have made decisions even more difficult. Instead, many funeral homes would store the deceased for extended periods to ensure that families got to visit them and possibly arrange a funeral service.

Overall, it is through the pandemic that many families learned firsthand that there is no time limit for refrigerating a body awaiting cremation. Of course, many were thankful for this as it allowed them to take their time planning the service and wait for restrictions to lift. The pandemic showed us that delaying the cremation or burial process is acceptable.

A wooden coffin in a contemporary crematory. Funeral service.

How Long Does the Cremation Process Take?

The entire cremation process can take anywhere from four days to two weeks. The amount of time depends on the mandatory wait time, the actual cremation, and the post-cremation processes. 

Overall, the processing time varies greatly depending on many factors. It is important to consider how much goes into the cremation process as well as the availability of the crematorium and staff. So, let’s talk about the process of cremation and why the amount of time it takes varies. 

Mandatory Waiting Period

Most states have a mandatory waiting period before morticians can perform cremations. Usually, the waiting time is only 24 to 48 hours, with a few exceptions. The process usually involves waiting for the death certificate, which crematoriums need to receive before they can perform the cremation. 

States also implement these wait times to ensure that families do not rush cremation for someone while their cause of death remains a mystery. This can help give investigators and morticians time to decide the cause of death and if there was any foul play involved. 

Unfortunately, this can also mean that morticians have to push back cremations even further. If the cause of death is difficult to determine, then specialists may need more time to figure out what happened. Since morticians can’t perform cremations until they receive the death certificate, an uncertain cause of death can delay the cremation process even further. 

Finally, the family must fill out the necessary paperwork for the cremation to take place. Unfortunately, you can’t request cremation and sign off on it over the phone. So, the family must come into the funeral home to sign off on the cremation process. 

This can delay the cremation process as people may have to rearrange their schedule, find a ride, or even travel a significant distance to sign the paperwork. Once the funeral home bypasses the mandatory wait, gets the death certificate, and has the family sign off on the process, they can begin the cremation. 

The Cremation Process

After the pre-cremation process is complete, the real process begins. Overall, this part of the process only takes a few hours to complete. First, the morticians place the body of your loved one in a container that the high temperature can destroy during the cremation process. The family of the deceased will need to pay for this. 

When searching for a cremation container, there are options that fit every budget. Whether it is something as simple as a pine or cardboard box or as complicated as a cherry casket, you have plenty of options to choose from. 

After placing your loved one in the container, they will close the container and place it in the cremation chamber. The chamber heats to about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (982.2 degrees Celsius) for about two to three hours. During this process, morticians will cremate everything in the container with your loved one. So, make sure you request any clothes or jewelry you may want.

After the Cremation

Once the process ends, morticians have to wait for the ashes to cool before handling them. After waiting, morticians will sort through the remains to remove any metal pieces that are left behind with a magnet. Usually, this comes from jewelry and other small metal objects inside the cremation container or casket.

Cremation doesn’t produce what we know as ashes. Instead, what is left remaining after the cremation process is the bones of the deceased. However, the bones are not yet ashes. So, morticians ground up everything.

Receiving the Ashes

After the mortician grounds up the ashes to the proper consistency, they will place the remains into an urn or a temporary container if the urn has yet to arrive. Then, the ashes will be set aside for the family. They can either pick up the ashes if they are keeping them or leave the ashes at the funeral home for future burial.

Another possible delay in the cremation process can be the urn chosen by the family. If the family has yet to select an urn or it hasn’t arrived yet, this can cause them to wait longer before receiving their loved one’s remains.

Once the cremation is complete, the family can decide what to do with the ashes. Some people choose to bury the ashes in a cemetery or even on private property. This is fairly common, and cemeteries sell burial plots made for cremated remains which are typically cheaper than standard burial plots because they require less space.

Families may also take the ashes home with them to keep their loved ones close. Though, this can cause some family disagreements when it comes to who gets to keep the ashes in their home. So, choose what you want to do with the ashes carefully and consider other family members during the process.

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How Long Can a Body Be Refrigerated Before Embalming?

A body can be refrigerated for three to four weeks until it needs embalming. However, some state laws prohibit families from viewing bodies refrigerated for longer than a specified amount of time without embalming. 

Overall, the embalming process can wait for as long as the body stays preserved. As discussed above, refrigeration is a useful technique for ensuring morticians are able to preserve the body until they embalm it. They will wait for your decision regarding when it is okay for them to embalm it.

State Laws

Laws in the USA differ from state to state as to how long a mortician can refrigerate a body and allow the family to still view it. Some states have no restrictions here. Other states like Pennsylvania only allow families to view their loved one’s bodies if they were refrigerated for less than 36 hours or embalmed.  

While each state differs in its embalming requirements, there is no law stating that you must embalm a body for burial or cremation. There may be certain guidelines, like the one above, that you need to follow, but it is not a requirement for any state in the USA. Overall, you can delay the embalming process for as long as you need to ensure it is the right choice. 

Rigor Mortis

One important factor when embalming a body is rigor mortis. During the embalming process, morticians often need to move the body into certain positions, and this can be difficult when rigor mortis begins to set in. Studies have shown that refrigeration can help slow down the development of rigor mortis. However, it is still something that morticians need to work around. 

Morticians can help with rigor mortis by massaging the muscles of the deceased to help them loosen, but there is no way to completely prevent it from happening. Rigor mortis is why it is common for the deceased not to wear shoes in a coffin, as we discussed here. Sometimes, morticians can work past rigor mortis, but that is not always the case. 

If the family wants the body embalmed for an open-casket viewing, rigor mortis can play a big part in complications. Morticians need to work with a body before rigor mortis sets in too much, as they will need to move the body in order to dress and prepare it for the service. Ultimately, rigor mortis is a significant reason to embalm a body quickly after death. 

Final Thoughts

If you need to delay a cremation for whatever reason, the funeral home will be able to accommodate your needs. Keep in mind that funeral homes charge a fee, usually daily, to store a body. So, while they will keep your loved one preserved, you will need to pay for it.

So, if you have yet to decide whether or not you want to cremate your loved one, refrigeration is a great way to delay the decomposition process. This will allow you to take your time making the right decision for yourself and your loved one.


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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.

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