Planning For Unexpected Death On the Homestead

It has been said that nothing is certain except for death and taxes. While it is fairly easy to deal with taxes on your rural homestead, death is another matter entirely. Unfortunately, there isn’t software to help you prepare for death, which leaves us with trying to figure out how to deal with an unexpected death when you are off the grid or far from civilization.

Sometimes deaths in a household can be somewhat planned for. When a person is terminally ill, you know the inevitable will be coming and can make preparations for a smooth transition from this life to the next. However, accidents and sudden illness happen, and it isn’t inconceivable that your off-grid living will be interrupted by an unexpected death. Because it isn’t pleasant having the corpses of your loved ones laying around, and because the government usually likes to be kept abreast on deaths to rule out criminal activity, you might wonder just how to deal with unexpected death on your homestead. Here are a few helpful tips.

Don’t Panic

Death does happen to all of us. Yes, even you. And me. In fact, I’m actually a disembodied spirit that has taken over a computer and is starting a second life as a freelance writer. Well, not really, but it’s nice to lighten the mood on a difficult topic while also getting closer to a targeted word count.

Seriously, if an unexpected death happens, don’t panic. If this death happened during an emergency, maintaining your wits might prevent you from joining the recently deceased. And even if things are otherwise hunky dory, staying as calm as you can help you parse the issue and take the next few important steps.

Presumably, you’ve verified the person is in fact dead. If you don’t know how to do this, now is a great time to learn basic first aid skills and trauma medicine. It’s possible in some cases, with the right training you could possibly revive a person. However, we are working from the idea you are dealing with death.

Probably the first thing you want to do if needed is secure the body from predation. Is it outside? If so, can you cover it up, or move it someplace where animals can’t get to it?

If the body is indoors, does discretion, personal choice, or religious beliefs require you to move or cover the body? Try to minimize how you handle it, local medical examiners may wish to see it in place.

Contact Local Authorities

As a general rule, you’ll want to notify local law enforcement, the county coroner, or a similar agency. Reporting a death is important for any number of reasons, not the least of which is establishing that you were not legally complicit in their death. There are also other reasons, all of which involve estates and related matters. The important thing is that you let authorities know you’ve got a body on your hands.

Depending on your jurisdiction and how remote you are, what happens next will vary. In many cases, an ambulance will be sent, and maybe a law enforcement officer to ask a few questions and verify the scene. The body will be removed, and you’ll likely have to make some sort of formal statement.

There is nothing wrong with contacting local authorities, and an awful lot wrong with not contacting them. It is always a good idea to report a death as quickly as possible, and get it dealt with, so you can focus on moving forward.

Dealing With The Body

This is an unpleasant task that I’ve already alluded to a bit. Most folks can reasonably expect the local coroner to be able to do a same day removal of the body. If you are very isolated, or other circumstances do not allow for quick removal, you may have to secure it for a period of time.

How this is to be done depends on a number of factors, and if you can communicate with local authorities about it. If you are deep off-grid and rural, you may have to store it in a cool, dry place, or even bury it for a period of time.

If you are forced to bury the body, it should be done so with an eye to easy recovery and examination later with the expectation that an autopsy will be performed. Ideally, local authorities will be able to give you guidance on this matter.

Plan Ahead

We are all preppers here, and that means we are all thinking about the unthinkable and how to plan for it. It’s easy to stockpile food and supplies, buy a neat rifle, and stack up several cases of ammo while planning a wicked cool off the grid cabin. That’s the fun stuff, and the stuff that doesn’t directly address our own mortality or that of our friends and family.

But the fact remains if you go off-grid, or move to a rural area, you need to account for the possibility of unplanned for death, which means, you guessed it – prepping for death.

Now that doesn’t mean you need to start stockpiling caskets and storing freeze-dried headstones. Instead, it means you need to start looking forward now, while it is still easy. Talk to local authorities to find out the best ways to deal with a rural, off-grid death. What their preferred procedures are under different circumstances. Odds are they will want to make their jobs easier which means making it easier for you to deal with an unexpected death.

You should also look into different funeral plans and ways to pay for them. In some cases, you might even be able to bury a body on your own land, but that brings its own set of problems and issues to consider.

But the important thing is that you sit down and work out in detail how you are going to deal with an unexpected death if it happens. For that matter, you should plan to deal with death, period. Because it will happen, and the more prepared you are for it, the better.

The Details Matter

You need to have a plan not only for dealing with an unexpected death in general but also for the deaths of each person – including yourself on your homestead. In today’s digital age, passwords, login information, and other such things can be important when closing an estate, or simply to access personal data on a computer.

Those things should be securely recorded so that the executor of an estate can access them at the time of death. Fortunately, there are easy ways of doing this that don’t compromise security in life.

Make sure everyone has a will drawn up, along with plans for how to dispose of their remains, and end of life medical instructions. A competent attorney or even a faith leader in your religious community can help with this. The important thing is to prep for death while it is still easy.


Death rarely is easy on those who remain behind, and even the most well prepared and mentally adjusted among us will experience difficulties, even if they are just emotional. Living off grid or rural can not only lead to uncommon forms of death visiting your household but make dealing with the aftermath more difficult.

Each person deals with death in their own way. Your religion, culture and personal beliefs all impact on how you deal with death, while local laws dictate the processes you have to go through after somebody days. These all must be accounted for ahead of time if you wish to make handling a death easier.

Facing mortality isn’t easy, but it is an important prepper skill just like gardening or installing a solar panel. Taking personal responsibility for your self-reliance means taking responsibility for the impact of death, and how it affects your homestead. We no longer live in a world where we can just bury a body with minimal oversight and paperwork. Instead, deaths are examined, recorded and documented with great care.

This can be a stressful process, but so is any emergency or disaster. This means you also have to prepare your mind for the eventuality of death. How you do this is something only you can determine, but now is a great time to talk to spiritual leaders, mental health professionals, friends and family about developing that mental strength.

Death is hard on the living and made more difficult the more disconnected from civilization that you are. But it can be planned for, and it can be dealt with. And that kind of mindset is exactly what sets the prepper apart from the rest of the world. Trust me, you can do it.

Author’s Bio

Steve Coffman is a freelance writer and consulting historian. He has a BA in US history from The Evergreen State College and lives near Tacoma, Washington. He collects antique telephone insulators and is presently researching labor union relations in Washington State during WWI.



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9 Responses to “Planning For Unexpected Death On the Homestead”

  1. Thank you for addressing the inevitable:death is as much a part of life as any other time or day in the universe.In much of our culture, death is regarded as anything but a normal part of living.As a former medic and ,later on, as a professional healthcare person, I have been blessed with experience which has placed death in a possibly more acceptable context in the greater scheme of life’s events.Might we all move on through life remaining to us with more realistic expectations…..

  2. This may be TMI for some but these are some other things to consider: 1. Dead bodies have a habit of purging “materials” from openings once systems stop operating. I’d recommend placing the body on a water proof sheet (shower curtains or large trash bags work) if you don’t want to deal with the foul clean-up. 2. Rigor will make the body stiff and limbs unmovable after a few hours, so if you can (legally), place the body in a flat, natural position it will simplify transport if/when the Coroner arrives or burial occurs. That rigor does release several hours after onset. 3. In a long term emergency situation you may need to have deal with the remains before they decompose to dangerous levels and become a HAZMAT situation. It may be advisable to have some lime in your preps (it’s cheap and readily available) so if you have to bury the remains, you can delay further decomposition and keep vermin at bay. 4. If you use a shallow grave as a temporary storage method (waiting days for the Coroner), cover the remains before filling the grave with soil and place large rocks over the grave to keep animals from digging at any unsupervised site. That way the remains can be recovered by the Coroner in “better” condition (if there is such a thing). No Coroner or other authorities coming? Dig a deep (6′ or so) grave away from water sources and housing and inter the remains. I’d still use the lime and rock cover to discourage scavengers. Sorry for being so morbid…

  3. I ran out of freeze dried headstones awhile back. Got any new suppliers? Seriously an excellent look into a much ignored issue.

  4. Sparky, your comment was in no way morbid. I was actually going to comment on the lack of information on how to deal when there is no help coming. Your comments were actually quite helpful.

  5. While an overall good article, I personally was expecting more information on how to deal with death when help will not be on it’s way. Sparky’s comment offers some good information. Perhaps another post on how our forebears dealt with death would be helpful. Also, touching on dealing with death from communicable diseases would be useful, as there are differences from dealing with a ‘natural’ death (or death from an ‘injury’).

  6. Good call on the infectious disease (as cause of death) Grammyprepper. Very insightful. That is an essential need-to-know. I referred to it with my HAZMAT remark, but you brought it down to specifics. Infectious diseases will, unfortunately, be a prevalent mortality factor. Thanks for bringing it up…

  7. Sparky, you were not being morbid. After all, we’re all (semi) adults here. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was in my 40s before I learned that rigor only lasted a few hours. Duh I should have pais more attention when I watched Quincy.

  8. In an area that freezes in winter, you will need to dig a grave or two in fall before the ground freezes. Otherwise it could be impossible to dig a grave in frozen ground. Know where your water table is in relation to well or water source to avoid further contamination.

  9. Have one or more graves dug before the ground freezes in fall. If there is a death, use the pre-dug grave, don’t forget several large rocks, and put a hoop house/row cover/cold frame over the grave and plant something in early spring or even in winter, depending on the temperature. The soil will be warmed and nourished from below. After the first year, the heat effect will no longer be present but the nutrition will remain long term. Could be a good place to plant a fruit or nut tree to nourish it long term.
    There’s a bumper sticker: “When I die, bury me in the compost pile.” That’s pretty much the idea. Circle of life, carbon cycle, etc


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