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Planning For Unexpected Death On the Homestead

Avatar for Chris Thompson Chris Thompson  |  Updated: July 1, 2019
Planning For Unexpected Death On the Homestead

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

  1. From my Only-Aide Medical Kit list:

    Since many deaths could come from disease, including infectious diseases, I included the isolation section of the list, as well.

    Part # 11: Quarantine, Infectious Diseases & Hazmat Kit
    Quarantine/isolation of those that might be contagious suggestions:
    I will not be going into long-term self-quarantine in this article. Standard security precautions are the rule, and taking care of basic human needs for two weeks to a year or more are a subject in and of themselves. This article is just as the title states. How to quarantine and isolate anyone that could be contagious for the incubation time of the suspected illness.

    If it is a simple illness, but you still do not want it to spread, basic sanitation applies, plus normal sick room procedures such as masks, gloves, goggles, and full apron. Everything sanitized regularly with hot soapy water and a good disinfectant.

    If it is something that is more dangerous, that could turn into an epidemic, much stricter measures must be taken. The first step is to set a location for the person or people. While individual isolation is best, that is almost impossible for home situations. Better to make a single effective isolation room than attempt to create several less effective ones.

    First, decide on the room. As much as it might grate, the master bedroom is probably the best choice in most houses. It is usually one of the largest bedrooms, and with an attached bathroom, which makes it easy to keep the possible contagion in one area.

    Move everything out of the rooms that is movable and not needed. Take out that big old king size bed. Chances are, the bathroom walls are washable. That is good. If the bedroom walls are, so much the better. But if not, then line the room with sheet plastic, using Gorilla tape or better to secure the plastic in place. Overlap seams at least two inches. You might have to use narrower strips for the ceiling, so it does not sag too much. For this application, since you are keeping things in, rather than out, tape flaps of plastic over switches and receptacles as you may need to use them. Place a piece of plywood in one of the windows large enough to accept some dryer vent ducting.

    In the bathroom, if it does not need full enclosure, cover up the switches and outlets anyway, and cover the vents. Use full overlapping plastic sheets at the entrance door. It is best to line the edges with magnetic tape to keep them closed, if possible, but as long as they fit well and lay tightly when closed, it will work.

    Lay plastic tarps down on the floor over the plastic to take the brunt of the abuse. They will be destroyed later so cheap ones are okay. Tape them down firmly so there is solid footing.

    Once the room is lined, but before the doors are hung, move in some cots or bunks. Add some easy to sanitize hard surface chairs and a table with a hard surface. Have a small table for each cot/bunk that can be disinfected to hold anything needed for that person. Add a chemical toilet to the bathroom, in case the power and/or water go off and the regular toilet quits working.

    Bring in something to keep peoples morale up. Something to do. Lots to do. It is going to get very boring if they do not get sick.

    With the vents closed off, and the doors and windows kept closed, the room is going to need its own ventilation system. As long as the power is on, a good shop vac with HEPA filter can be used to blow air out of the room through the window board. (A sound barrier will be needed to reduce the sound levels.)A large HEPA filter over another hole in the window board will allow air to come into the room. If humidity still gets too high, then a standalone dehumidifier can be operated. Even a standalone air conditioner can be operated.

    If the power goes out, things get tougher. Two 24”x24” HEPA filters built into separate boxes can be placed at the window board and a 12 volt DC fan run to blow air out one and let the air come in the other. A 12v bucket swamp cooler or air conditioner will keep the room cooler, but humidity could become a problem if the air is not circulated in and out enough.

    That is the isolation room. But that is not enough in serious cases. A decontamination area should be constructed the same way as the room, in the hallway that the room opens into. Basically the width of the hallway, and a bit longer than that width. This is where decontamination will take place going into the isolation room as well as coming out. You will need a kiddie pool small enough to fit into this space, plus a battery and 12v bilge pump with hose, and a bucket to handle the decontamination fluids.

    If time, space, and material allow, another closed room can be created as a changing room to change clothes or add/remove items before and after decontamination.

    Once the room(s) are set up and the cots/bunks are in place, cover the mattresses with plastic and tape it in place. The same with the pillows. Then add the bedding. It should be plain white cotton that can be boiled and/or bleached heavily. Sheets and blankets both. If you cannot bleach it without it coming apart it is not suitable for continued use. Better yet is disposable bedding. In the case of ebola and some other highly infectious and extremely deadly organisms, the process of putting reusable bedding through a cleaning process in a home can just spread the contamination around.

    Pretty much everything else should be disposable, preferably paper or plastic. Trying to disinfect reusable items is too much work and takes up too many resources, as well as risks spreading the disease.

    Use some common sense when it comes to working with those in isolation. Wear the goggles, face mask, gloves, and coverall religiously. Decontaminate as if you and your family’s lives depend on it, because they do. Treat those that get sick with compassion. If you have the means to help them get well, use it. If not, make them comfortable.

    In a home setting dealing with multiple isolation cases can be very difficult. The last thing you want is to expose someone that might or might not have an infection to someone else that might. And with a single isolation room, that must also be a treatment room, this is even more critical. So, if there is more than one person to be isolated, but do not yet have symptoms, those people should wear basic PPE to avoid getting an infection from someone else also in the same isolation/quarantine area.

    Be ready to burn or otherwise safely dispose of all the contaminated trash.

    Now, if the contagion is wide spread, and you decide to isolate the whole household, you will need to be prepared for up to at least a 90 day isolation period. This should be long enough for the disease to spread through the area and then essentially run out of hosts to infect and die off (in that area).

    So you will need a 90 day supply of everything. And I mean everything. From food to water to sanitation to heating fuel. All kept within a protected area that cannot be contaminated from the outside.

    About the only other option is to have one or more reliable, trustworthy contact persons that remain outside the isolated household, off the property. Also needed is an enclosed exchange point at a window or door that can be decontaminated easily. Essentially a mini isolation room with air lock hatches or doors on each side, where the outside person can bring in or take out items necessary to maintain the isolation inside the home.

    The person will need to be versed in using PPE, isolation techniques, and decontamination techniques. They will need the means to communication with those inside the structure, and have the means to obtain items needed by the household, and to dispose of items that need to be removed from the household.

    Besides just a transfer agent, the person can also be a good source of information, and in a worst-case scenario, can help provide for the defense of the home from outside, giving one a much better chance to survive an attack on the home.

    Just remember, that bringing anything into the house after the contagion begins to spread, is a huge risk. Decontamination of everything brought in must be effective to the nth degree, or risk bringing the contagion inside.

    If the worst happens, and someone dies, get them into a body bag and removed to a suitable storage point that is secure, as cool as possible, and out of sight.

    Do not count on any assistance from anyone else, even the government. If it is a pandemic, they are going to be busy, if even still working. It may be required by the authorities, or you may want to do it to protect others, but marking the property and/or building(s) with quarantine signs and information should be an option, for which the materials are kept available.

    Quarantine Warning/Marking Sign Materials:
    • Sign/placard material
    • Indelible marker
    • Heavy duty double stick tape
    • Gorilla tape
    • Staple gun w/staples
    • Hammer/hatchet w/nails
    • Wooden stakes

    Isolation room equipment and materials:
    • Sheet plastic
    • Plastic tarps
    • Gorilla tape
    • 24″ x 24″ HEPA filters
    • 12v fan w/pre charged deep cycle batteries
    • 12v bucket swamp cooler or A/C
    • Dehumidifier
    • Chemical toilet w/chemical, TP, and buckets for storage of waste (if no bathroom)
    • Washing station w/sink, collection bucket, and cleaner (if not bathroom)
    • Water purifier (not filter) (if there is sickness, they are going to need lots of pure water)
    • Folding cots
    • All cotton white bedding and lots of it
    • Easy to decontaminate chairs and tables
    • Insect control materials (flies, gnats, mosquitos, other bugs can carry infectious body fluids)

    Patient care items:
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Disinfectant soap
    • Disposable patient gowns
    • Warm socks
    • Individual patient signal devices (bell, wireless intercom, FRS radio, laptop w/Skype)
    • Disposable thermometers or non-contact electronic thermometer
    • Disposable graduated medication dispensing cups and syringes
    • Individual boxes of Kleenex
    • Individual patient clipboard with medical information paperwork and pen
    • Vomit pails, with sealable bags
    • Fever reduction materials
    • Trash cans & bags to hold contaminated clothing and bedding
    • Easy prep, easy to eat shelf stable foods (Heavy on soups, ice cream, Jello, yogurt)
    • Disposable dishes and flatware
    • Oral rehydration powder or liquid (if there is sickness, they will likely become dehydrated)
    • Vitamin C (Emergen-C packets or similar)(Vitamin C always helps)
    • Multivitamins (With a limited diet, they are going to need the vitamins)
    • Homeopathic treatments
    • Some type of entertainment and boredom reducing materials

    Care giver PPE:
    • P100 masks (though there are N-95 masks that will work, be safer and use the P-100s)
    • Exam gloves
    • Nitrile gloves
    • Safety glasses/goggles
    • Full face shield (Mostly to keep from touching your face)
    • Tychem or similar booted/hooded coveralls
    • Disposable plastic aprons
    • Rubber boots

    Please remember that these items can contaminate other items if they themselves pick up the contagion. So, while you may be protected, you can easily spread the contagion by handling other things after your PPE has been exposed. Of course decontamination procedures mitigates most of this outside the quarantine/isolation room. But if one has disinfected the bathroom, then does something with an infected quarantined person, and then touches on of those cleaned surfaces, that surface could now be contaminated again. So be aware that your PPE is a risk to other people.

    And, other than a full encapsulated suit, touching your face, especially the eyes, nose, and mouth, with gloved hands, you can contaminate yourself accidently. So make it a point to never touch any part of your body with your gloved hands. One of the best ways to do this is to wear a full face shield over the safety goggles. This way, it takes a specific effort to touch your face, since the shield has to be lifted.

    Disinfecting/decontamination materials:
    • Disinfecting cleaner (bleach, Hibiclens, alcohol)
    • Cleaning cloths that can be bleached, or heavy duty disposable paper towels
    • Disposable heavy duty cleaning gloves
    • Trash cans & bags to hold general trash
    • Bleach
    • Scrub brush
    • Garden sprayer (to spray down when decontaminating)
    • Kiddie pool as decontamination sump
    • 12 volt bilge pump &battery, with buckets with lids for contaminated water

    Post event cleaning materials:
    • Surgical gloves
    • Surgical masks
    • Safety glasses/goggles
    • Rubber gloves
    • Respirator
    • Rubber boots
    • Tychem/hazmat coveralls w/attached hood & booties
    • Providone iodine prep pads
    • Hibiclens antiseptic surgical scrub (liquid)
    • Commercial disinfectant
    • Acid & alkali neutralizing chemicals
    • Broom
    • Dustpan
    • Whisk broom
    • Dusting brush (soft bristle paint brush)
    • Pans & cleaning sponges
    • Buckets & scrub brushes
    • Heavy duty garbage bags
    • Pick/mattock
    • Shovel

    Part # 12: Funeral & Corpse Handling Equipment
    PAW burial suggestions:
    Invest a few bucks in body bags (or at least heavy duty contractors’ trash bags & Gorilla tape, some inexpensive blankets and/or sheet plastic), a game or other cart, some lowering gear, PPE, simple grave markers, and a pick and shovel. Decide where the family/friend burial grounds will be. Decide where Boot Hill is going to be. Create a set of burial ceremonies or a non-denominational one. Keep it simple, but provide something for friends or relatives to satisfy their emotional and religious needs. Laminate a copy of the words to be said at the burial. Again, specific to the ceremony or something non-denominational.

    If it looks like things are getting bad, especially in a situation like an epidemic or other situation likely to result in several deaths, go ahead and dig a few graves for the family/friends, and a trench for Boot Hill, using owned or rented digging equipment. Make them the standard 6′ or so deep so they will not be likely to be dug up by animals that could be desperate for food in a disaster situation.

    Put a few supports (limbs, used pipe, used lumber) over the graves and use some sheet plastic to cover the holes and dirt mounds, weighted down around the edges with some rocks or dirt.

    Corpses are difficult to handle. And in the case of death by infectious illness, dangerous to handle. Have some rubber gloves, masks and goggles, and even protective coveralls for when you handling the corpse. Get it in a body bag or wrapped in cloth or plastic as soon as possible. You will need cleaning supplies to take care of any blood or other body fluids if the death occurs inside or in an area that will be used in the future.

    Have a cart on which you can carry the remains. It will reduce the stress significantly if you have some wide webbing straps with which the body can be lowered into the grave, rather than just dumping it in.

    Conduct any ceremony needed, fill in the grave, place the marker, and walk away. It is done. Do not dwell on it. It is something that must be done and you have fulfilled your obligation.

    If you are not going to be able to get out to bury a body for a while, seal them up in some type of body bag, purpose built or expedient, and place the body(ies) in the coolest spot in the structure, that is not used much, if any, where they will not be disturbed by pets or vermin. At the very least, close off an area with a screen or curtain, or hide the bodies from general view in some manner. As soon as possible to take them out and bury the remains.

    Funeral/Burial Items:
    • Record book w/pen
    • Death certificates
    • Body bags w/attached id tags
    • Toe tags
    • Personal effects bags w/attached id tags
    • Surgical gloves
    • Surgical masks
    • Safety glasses/goggles
    • Full face respirator(s) if possible
    • Tyvek coveralls w/attached hood & booties
    • Hibiclens antiseptic surgical scrub (liquid)
    • Household disinfectant
    • Bucket & scrub brush
    • Cart to move deceased if at all possible
    • Pick/mattock
    • Shovels
    • Gorilla tape
    • Lowering straps
    • Temporary grave markers w/attached id tags
    • Attachable faith emblems for markers
    • Bible/Koran/Torra/Prayer Book

    Just my opinion.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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…

  6. 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’).

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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…

  10. 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…..

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