Do Ministers Need a License to Perform a Funeral?

While funeral directors need licenses, ministers do not.
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When friends and family celebrate a person's life and mourn his passing with a funeral, they often contract a minister to perform the service. The minister's job will often include working with the family to develop a program for the service, as well as writing and presenting a eulogy for the deceased. While no license is required to perform a funeral service, the funeral director responsible for handling the body and overseeing its burial does need a license from the state.

1 Funeral Service

There are few if any laws about how a funeral service must be conducted. A service does not need to be religious, and while many choose to have a member of the clergy lead the service, a layman is also allowed to perform this duty. Since the duties of the person performing the service are largely ceremonial, there is no need to seek out a license to perform them. For example, the deceased's close relative would not be forbidden from performing the service.

2 Funeral Director

However, according the National Funeral Directors Association, every state requires that a funeral director receive a license before performing his duties. (See Reference 3) The duties of a funeral director include arranging the transportation of the deceased, preparing the body for viewing and burial, submitting state paperwork and legal documents related to the death, and consulting with the deceased's family about options for the disposal of the body and the funeral. Some funeral directors are also ministers.

3 Confusion

Legally, a funeral director is allowed to perform the job of a minister, including helping plan the funeral. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a funeral director is not require to do this, but he can choose to. However, most of a funeral director's jobs are off limits to a minister unless the minister carries the proper license. For example, a minister cannot legally prepare the body for burial, oversee its transportation, or file paperwork with the state, as this is a specialized task.

4 Minister's Ordination

While a minister does not need a special license to perform a funeral service, he does need to be legally ordained to become a minister. Each denomination has its own process by which it ordains ministers. In some, the process is very simple and is merely a formality, while in other it is far more complex and time-consuming. While states do confer some power on an ordained minister, such as the power to marry two people, they do not recognize a legal right to perform a funeral service.

Based in New York City, Joseph Eliot has been a writer since 2007. He holds a master's degree in journalism, with a focus on cultural reporting.