How Long Can You Wait To Have a Funeral After Death?

Funeral services have a lot of moving parts and can be very expensive. From the casket and funeral home to the floral arrangements, there are a lot of decisions to make. If you’re in the process of planning a funeral service, how long can you wait to have a funeral after death?

There’s no specific law or rule on how long you can wait to have a funeral after death. In the U.S., it’s typical to have a funeral service within a few weeks of death, though some religious traditions may have different customs. 

In this article, I’ll detail the customary funeral timeline in the U.S. and what factors go into the decision-making. I’ll also discuss some scenarios in which a family may need to delay a funeral and how you can save money in those rare instances.

The Typical Length of Time To Wait for a Funeral

While some states have laws regarding body refrigeration, there’s no set law on the timeframe for a funeral after death.

In the U.S., funerals typically occur within one to two weeks of the person’s passing. This amount of time is long enough for the family to make arrangements and for loved ones to travel in from other parts of the country.

Religious Influence on Funeral Timelines

Many factors, including religion, can influence the amount of time people wait to have a funeral.

Some religious practices require a burial service within a day or two of passing. In these instances, a funeral is held quickly to honor the customs.

Most families who require swift funeral services will have the details planned ahead of time to speed up the process when the time comes.

Preservation and Funeral Timelines

The type of funeral and body preservation can also influence the funeral timeline.

For example, while embalming a body slows down the decomposition process, it does not halt it entirely. Embalmed bodies will start to show signs of decomposition within a few days after the process. It’s best to have the funeral within a few weeks of passing in these circumstances.

Another form of preservation is refrigeration. A refrigerated body can go three to four weeks before showing signs of decomposition. This method is an excellent option for families who need to wait a few weeks to a month before having the funeral service.

Cremation is growing in popularity and is a great choice for those with a severely delayed service. While cremation typically takes place days after death, the funeral itself can be held whenever the family chooses after the body is cremated. This option is terrific for families who need to wait several months or even years before the funeral.

Wooden casket with funeral flowers, cremation ceremony

Reasons Funerals Are Delayed

While it’s ideal to have a funeral within weeks after the death, several factors play a role in the funeral timeline. These factors may or may not be within the family’s control and can impact when they can have the service for their loved ones.

Here are a few reasons why a family may delay a funeral.

Time Is Needed To Make Arrangements

A funeral may be delayed because time is needed to make arrangements. While it’s common in the U.S. to plan for funerals before death, sometimes that isn’t always possible. If someone has a sudden or unexpected death, the deceased’s family has to start the funeral planning from scratch.

In these cases, it may be challenging to plan and hold the funeral within a week or two after death, so it may be best to delay the funeral altogether.

Family Needs To Travel to the Funeral

It may take some time for loved ones living on the other side of the country to coordinate travel arrangements to attend the funeral. Therefore, the family may delay the service to give loved ones time to get their affairs in order. This timeline may extend even further if loved ones need to travel from other countries to attend.

Complicated Last Wishes

If the deceased has placed specific requests in their will or have complicated last wishes, this may also delay the funeral. For example, your loved one may want to have the service on a specific day, such as a birthday or anniversary, and that date could be several months away.

In this case, the funeral home and the funeral director can work with the family to honor these wishes.

Severe and Abnormal Weather

Weather can be a significant factor in funeral delays, especially when travel is involved. For example, severe storms where the funeral will occur may lead to the funeral home delaying the service. Some families will also wait to have the service if there’s bad weather causing travel issues for family members in other areas of the country.

Several Separate Funerals

While not as common, some funerals may be delayed if there’s a need for several separate funerals. For example, if a tragic event results in numerous casualties, there may be a backlog of funerals, causing a delay for some at that specific funeral home.


Holidays can also play a factor in funeral delays. Some funeral homes may not operate on holidays or during holiday seasons, which can cause a delay of service from a logistical perspective.

Family holiday plans can also cause delays. If loved ones are traveling or have other holiday plans, the family may postpone the funeral to ensure that all family and friends can attend.

Transportation of the Body

In addition to family travel delays, there may be a delay due to the body’s transportation. If someone dies in another state or country, the body needs to be transported back to wherever it’ll be buried.

This type of delay is typical among military members and people who travel extensively.

Questions Regarding Cause of Death

Funerals will also be postponed if there are questions regarding the cause of death. This situation will occur if there are any legal proceedings or investigations into the death of a loved one. In this instance, the family will not hold the funeral until the autopsy and investigations have concluded.

Time Is Needed To Save Money

Lastly, funerals may be delayed because the family cannot pay for the service at the time of death.

Traditional funerals in the U.S. can be costly. In 2021, the cost of a traditional funeral that included viewing and burial was around  $7,000 – $8000. This amount can be a high cost for the family, especially when there was insufficient time to prepare for this cost ahead of death.

Some families will delay the service to give themselves time to save up money.

Things To Coordinate When Planning a Funeral

There are a lot of different factors for a funeral to plan. If your loved one didn’t make any arrangements ahead of time, the family would have to consider several things when coordinating the service.

Finding a Funeral Home

One of the first arrangements the family will have to make is finding a funeral home. When choosing a funeral home, there are many things to consider, such as cost, availability, and location. For example, it’s typically best to have the funeral service where the body will be buried, so location is important to consider.

It’s also important to note that funeral homes do not have standard pricing for their services. A particular fee at one funeral home may be considerably cheaper at the funeral home down the street. Because of this variability in price, it’s good to shop around to get multiple quotes before making a final selection.

Choosing the Type of Funeral

The type of funeral you have is another important consideration. Some families choose to go with an open casket funeral, while others prefer a closed casket. Some families may want a graveside service, while others may only want a viewing.

These decisions can be heavily influenced by the cause of death and state of the body, so even if someone had a funeral plan, this specific consideration might need to be changed.

Casket or Urn Selection

Selecting the casket or urn for your loved one is also a big decision. Caskets in the U.S. are highly ornate and highly customizable. Various types of caskets are available that are made from different materials, as well as eco-friendly caskets if your loved one would rather have a green burial.

If the deceased is cremated, the family must choose an urn for the ashes. There are different types of urns to choose from depending on if the urn will be buried or displayed.

Service Details

Once the more significant details such as location and type of service have been made, there are still a few minor decisions regarding the service itself. For example, floral arrangements, catering, and music will all need to be selected and paid for ahead of the service.

The funeral director can be a great help in guiding you through these decisions and will ensure that every detail is considered.

Saving Money on Delayed Funerals

Delaying a funeral for whatever reason can be pretty expensive for the family. Embalming a body costs $500 to $700 on average, and storing the body can cost up to $50 per day. For this reason, it may be of interest to save money wherever possible if a funeral must be delayed. 

Here are a few ideas to save money on a delayed funeral service.

Cremate the Body Before the Service

If the delay for the funeral will be significant, moving forward with cremation soon after death may be a good option.

Bodies don’t need to be embalmed before cremation, especially if there’s no viewing before the cremation occurs. Additionally, once a body is cremated, the family won’t need to pay for refrigeration or any other type of storage at a facility.

Avoid Saturday Funerals

Saturdays are the most popular days for funeral services in the U.S. Many families prefer weekend services so people won’t have to take off work and accommodate those that need to travel in from out of state.

Since Saturdays are busy for most funeral homes, you may be able to get a cheaper rate on a different day of the week. For example, Sundays are typically the slowest days of the week due to most people in the U.S. viewing Sunday as a day of rest.

Talk to your funeral director to compare rates for different days of the week when planning the service.

Host a Virtual Funeral

Another way to save money on a delayed funeral is to host a virtual service. If it’s likely that the service will be delayed due to travel restrictions or weather conditions, having everyone attend virtually is a great option.

A virtual funeral is typically cheaper than a traditional funeral because the family will cut associated costs such as venue rental, refreshment services, and floral arrangements.

Additionally, a body doesn’t need to be embalmed before a virtual service since most people will not see the body in person. The cost of body storage also decreases because the virtual funeral can help accelerate the timeline, helping eliminate some of the initial delays.

Final Thoughts

While it’s tradition to have the funeral service within a few weeks of someone dying, there are no laws in the U.S. regarding when a funeral service must be held. Some extenuating circumstances may cause a delay in when the funeral service can occur.

Ultimately, it’s most important that the deceased is honored and that the family’s wishes are fulfilled. If there’s any concern about a funeral delay, talk to your funeral director about the different options and what may be best for your family and situation.


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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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