How to Transport a Body Across State Lines

Lincoln's Funeral Train


You may have read about the Oklahoma couple who covered up the death of a daughter and who transported that child’s body across six state lines about six times for a total of 1,900 miles before they were caught. While cases like this occur occasionally, body transportation must exist to return a body to a family or to send the deceased to a burial location outside the place of death, among other legitimate reasons. Can you deliver a body yourself, or do regulations exist to prevent this measure?

Body transport is governed on the state level, and a few states boast independent licensed body transportation such as Virginia and Florida. In other states, such as Vermont, the transporter’s license is tied to a funeral home or crematory. In some cases, you simply need the death certificate and an out-of-state disposition permit from Vital Records or from a funeral director to move a body from one state to another.

In Missouri, for instance, you can move a body by “common carrier” if the death was not caused by a contagious disease and if the destination can be reached within 24 hours. Texas issues a “burial transport permit” for death occuring in the state and honors the same from other locations. The Texas practice is one that is familiar from historical records, where permits were required to move a body from one location to another and to mark its progress. States began to issue these permits about the mid 1800s, around the same time as the Civil War.

But, body transport across state lines actually became easier with rail development. The New York City Department of Health kept a register of bodies in transit from 1859 to 1894 (see Family History Library microfilm 1671686, -87 and -88). Abraham Lincoln was one of those bodies, as his corpse passed through New York on 24 April 1865 from Washington, DC to the former president’s resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

In most cases, especially those where the body is transported by public means (rail, plane, etc.) or when the transport takes longer than 24 hours, the body must be embalmed. Also, when working with funeral homes for transportation, it often is much less expensive to work with the destination funeral home than it is with the funeral home located at the place of death. Many funeral homes may work with Inman Nationwide, a company that serves funeral directors throughout the U.S., Canada, Alaska, Great Britain and the Caribbean.

Inman Nationwide will pick up the body, have it embalmed and drive it to the airport for approximately $1,000 (airfare not included). If you want to save money, however, the best option would be to check with all states that you may need to cross to deliver the body and learn about what each state requires to transport that body. Often, with a body bag and a car, you can perform the service yourself after the body has been embalmed. In most cases, however, you are required to be under the direction of a licensed funeral director.

The complication of delivering a body across state lines is one reason to pre-arrange funeral options. If you know that you want to be buried in a state outside your residential state, then plan ahead and don’t push these plans on your loved ones after you’re gone. Learning how to transport a body legally across state lines is a job that requires more than one day’s worth of investigation.

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