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Funeral Homes Now Funding ‘Indigent’ Cremation For the Dead

Death is inevitable; and while that may seem like a harsh reality, dying without a befitting burial is equally terrifying. However, some funeral homes in some places in America have begun taking responsibility for cremation.

For instance, whenan Astoria man was found dead in his bed, he had no death benefit, insurance policy, friends nor family willing and able to fund his burial. Funeral Director of Hughes-Ransom Mortuary & Crematory, John R. Alcantara took it upon himself to ensure that the funeral home funded the expenses that were incurred for his funeral.

“It’s just something that’s a shared responsibility in a community,” Alcantara said. “This is a safety net for people who have nothing.”

Cremation is usually less expensive than a traditional burial and according to a CNN report, cremations are becoming more popular than they have ever been in America, surpassing the rates of burial year after year. “Most funeral directors have seen a lot of families move away from tradition, move away from ceremony,” said R. Bryant Hightower Jr., secretary of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).

“And in their minds, ceremony and tradition are tied to the burial side more than the cremation side. So, they have said, ‘If I want it simple and I don’t want it in a church or a synagogue and I don’t want a rabbi or a minister, then I want cremation.’”

According to the law, when a body is found, law enforcement attempts to identify the body then notify friends or family. Potential spouses are the first point-of-contact, then officials reach out to adult children, parents, siblings and anyone who may have the legal right or desire to oversee funeral services.

Since 1993—in locations like Oregon—the state Legislature has partially reimbursed funeral homes for ‘indigent’ cremations and burials. Though, an update to the process was made in 2015, widening the criteria for a body to be considered indigent.

“I would say it’s fairly rare that there’s somebody we’re not able to track down through various means,” said Astoria Police Deputy Chief Eric Halverson.

However, most funeral homes in Seattle and other parts of America have volunteered to be on an on-call list to aid officials when they cannot find a next of kin.

When no one is takes up the responsibility to pay, the funeral home then performs cremations that typically would cost more than $1,600, said Alcantara. Though after following a lengthy application process, the state Mortuary and Cemetery Board, may then reimburse up to $461.

“This is so much of a process for so little money,” Alcantara said.

The indigent reimbursement fund is based on money gotten from death filing fees and according to the state law, $6 of every $20 fee must be put into the fund.

Furthermore, funeral homes are equally required to explore numerous other avenues for reimbursement before receiving money from the state. In the span of five days after receiving a body, a funeral home must confirm if the person has the means to pay through his or her estate, attempt to locate family, check if the person has unclaimed property through the state that may help offset costs, contact any friends or organizations that may help and reach out to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in case they are eligible for benefits.

However, in response to Americans’ increasing preference for cremations, quite a number of funeral homes are switching their business models. According to a report, nearly 30 percent of funeral homes now operate crematories, and an additional 9.4 percent plan to open a crematory within the next five years.

While the issue of indigent reimbursement fund might linger, another challenge the trend poses for the industry is that “many consumers are not aware that cremation can be accompanied by a memorial service or viewing”—traditions that can equally bring in profits for funeral homes.

“Things like a memorial service, a visitation or a viewing—these are things that we’re trying to figure out how to tie into these minimal services,” said Jeff Jorgenson, founder of Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle. “And that’s where the industry really struggles.”