A member of our family has died and we don't have money for a funeral. Can you help?
Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Piedmont does not have funds to assist families with funeral expenses. We can provide information that might be helpful, however.
If you have some funds available, then you should be aware that direct cremations and immediate burials are the least expensive options available from a funeral provider. Both offer basic services without embalming, public viewing or ceremony. (Of course, you can always have a memorial service afterward that doesn't involve the funeral provider's assistance.) You can cut expenses even further by providing your own urn (in the case of cremation) or casket (in the case of burial). Cremation is almost always less expensive than burial. For a cremation, it usually costs less to work directly with a crematory rather than a funeral home.
If your funds are insufficient even for a direct cremation, you might consider an anatomical bequeathal (whole-body donation). Human cadavers are used by medical schools and physical/occupational therapy departments for educational purposes for one to two years, then cremated. The cremated remains can be returned to the family upon request. Not all bodies are suitable -- for instance, extreme obesity and certain pathological conditions are reasons for exclusion -- and one should make arrangements in advance. The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Commission of Anatomy has more information.
When families come to a funeral home or crematory with very limited funds, funeral providers often will encourage them to look to friends, relatives and faith communities for assistance with the costs. Occasionally, a funeral home will offer a free or discounted funeral for specific hardship cases, but no funeral provider is obligated to do so. The last resort, established by North Carolina law, is the social services department of the county in which the death occurred, if it is evident that nobody will step forward within 10 days to claim a body for burial or cremation. In that case, the body is first offered to the state Commission of Anatomy. If the offer is refused, then the county arranges and pays for a final disposition of its choice. It is unlikely that in such a situation a family would have much opportunity for viewing the body.
A member of my family has just died here, but we need to have the body flown to a foreign country for burial. Can you help?
Eagle's Wing's Air Travel Agency specializes in air funeral transport to international locations. You can visit their website at www.eagleswingsair.com or call them at (866) 550-1392. Or if you are being assisted by a funeral home, you can have them make the call.
Clark Howard, the consumer talk show host, says you can arrange a discount burial or cremation. What discount do you offer?
Clark Howard is a member of the Atlanta chapter of Funeral Consumers Alliance, which, like some older FCA chapters, operates on what FCAers called the Costco Model -- you basically buy into the chapter to obtain a discount burial or cremation worked out just for its members with one or two local funeral providers. These chapters had their heyday before the Funeral Rule came out in 1984 to empower consumers with more control over the selection of funeral goods and services. Like most newer FCA chapters, we don't operate that way. Instead, we operate on the Advocacy Model, meaning that we use research, education and advocacy to teach all consumers in our area -- not just our members -- how to save money on funeral arrangements, if indeed that is their aim. Our not-for-profit status would be in jeopardy if we were to provide a significant benefit available only to members, and the funeral providers involved would simply pass those costs on to other funeral consumers. In addition, we are careful to avoid entangling, too-cozy relationships with one or two funeral providers, wanting instead to be an objective, fair and credible source for comparative data on funeral providers in our area. In this way, we operate very much like Consumer Reports, except we focus only on the local funeral industry. Regardless of which model is used by an FCA chapter, it is true that each chapter is the "go to" source for funeral consumers on how to cut funeral costs. Although we can't offer you a member-only discount, we offer lots of information that will teach you about your rights and options as a funeral consumer--knowledge that can easily save you thousands of dollars at life's end.
Here is the definition provided by the national office of Funeral Consumers Alliance: Green (or natural) burial emphasizes simplicity and environmental sustainability. The body is neither cremated nor prepared with chemicals such as embalming fluids. It is simply placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and interred without a concrete burial vault. The grave site is allowed to return to nature. The goal is complete decomposition of the body and its natural return to the soil. Only then can a burial truly be "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," a phrase so often used when we bury our dead.
How can I gain access to my ancestor's grave which is located on someone else's private property?
If the landowner gives consent this is covered in North Carolina Statute § 65-101 which states that descendants "may enter the property of another to discover, restore, maintain, or visit a grave or abandoned public cemetery."
When the landowner does not give consent North Carolina Statute § 65-102 applies. This states that a descendant "may commence a special proceeding by petitioning the Clerk of Superior Court" to gain access to the grave. Further "The clerk shall issue an order allowing the petitioner to enter the property" if certain conditions are met. The order will contain conditions and restrictions on the access. This process will probably require the assistance of a lawyer.
The body of our loved one has been taken for an autopsy. Will we be required to pay an autopsy fee or transportation to reclaim the body? Do we still have to pay for a funeral?
If the death falls under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner system and an autopsy is ordered by the medical examiner or government agency such as police, sheriff, or a court the cost of the autopsy will be paid by the state or county. Also, the state through the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will pay the cost of the transportation of the body to and from the autopsy facility. After the autopsy, the body will be returned to the county where the death occurred. This can be to a funeral home of your choosing or in some cases to the hospital where the death occurred. Under no circumstances should you let a funeral home bill you for the transportation of the body for medical examiner autopsy or for the autopsy itself.
For those families interested in having a home funeral and/or wishing to pick up the autopsied body themselves, there is no law against the family being able to do this. You are asked to please provide a biohazard bag if choosing this option.
You will still be responsible for funeral costs incurred after the return of the body. In rare circumstances when a body is unclaimed the Office of Chief Medical Examiner will arrange for cremation and retain the ashes for three years.
The website of the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has more information. Their toll-free number is 1-800-672-7024.
Can you help me plan a home funeral?
Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Piedmont wants you to know that caring for your own dead is both legal and safe in the state of North Carolina. Home funerals are gaining in popularity as many people remember this is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents took care of their deceased loved ones. Home funerals allow the family and/or community to carry out their own after-death care.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Piedmont is supportive of the home funeral movement. For additional information we recommend the National Home Funeral Alliance website where you will find a directory of home funeral guides within your area to help you. We also recommend the book, Undertaken with Love. Originally written by a founding member of Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Piedmont, Holly Stevens, the book has been updated and revised and is available through the NHFA.
North Carolina state law does not prohibit burial on one's own private property. However, some local ordinances restrict this, particularly in larger towns and cities. You can research pertinent local ordinances at www.municode.com: Click on Municode Library, then North Carolina, then the county or town of your choice. You will also want to check with your local public health department. It is generally advised that families burying their dead on their own land place the burial plot at least 150 feet from a water supply and 50 feet from a power line or boundary line, draw a map indicating the plot's location on the property, and pay to have the map recorded with the deed. According to North Carolina law, the uppermost portion of the remains, or their encasement, must be at least 18 inches below the surface of the ground.
I just had a loved one cremated. Where can I legally scatter or bury the ashes?
The technical term is cremated remains, or cremains. The following is from North Carolina Statute § GS 90-210.130(c):
In addition to the disposal of cremated remains in a crypt, niche, grave, or scattering garden located in a dedicated cemetery, or by scattering over uninhabited public land, the sea, or other public waterways..., cremated remains may be disposed of in any manner on the private property of a consenting owner, upon direction of the authorizing agent.
I'm dying, and I want to be cremated, but there is a dispute in my family about this. When I told the crematory about the matter, they refused to get involved. Can they do this?
Yes. Unless you and the funeral provider have entered a contractual relationship, the provider has the right to refuse to provide service to you on any number of grounds (other than for reasons that would violate your civil rights). In the recent past, crematories that have performed a cremation based on the instructions of the "authorizing agent" (the person recognized by law to be the one responsible for selecting final arrangements) in families where there is discord on this matter have been successfully sued, so it is understandable that a crematory would be very nervous entering the fray. This is one situation in which we would recommend that you consider establishing a preneed contract with a different provider specifying cremation. Once money is exchanged in such a contract, the provider is obligated to perform its terms, regardless of any objections voiced by other family members. You also should consider appointing a sympathetic individual as your authorizing agent via the North Carolina Appointment of Agent for Body Disposition and Authorization for Cremation form (see the next question).
Can I designate someone before I die to make decisions regarding the final disposition of my body at the time of my death?
Yes. One means to do so is via a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) which specifically grants the individual you so designate to make decisions regarding what happens to your body after your death. This is a broad-based power that gives this person the right (within the scope of other laws) to make decisions as to the method of final disposition (e.g., burial or cremation), donations of the body or its parts, and autopsies (not otherwise required by a medical examiner), in addition to health care decision-making powers that would be granted before you die if you were to become incapacitated. If you desire, you may also use the HCPOA to limit the scope of any of these powers (for instance, to require cremation as the means of final disposition).
However, a HCPOA is not invoked unless you are declared incompetent before you die. And even if so, North Carolina Statute § 130A-420, Authority to dispose of body or body parts, gives certain other instruments priority over HCPOAs regarding the type, place and method of disposition. A written statement regarding final arrangements other than a will signed by the individual and witnessed by two adults takes precedence over a HCPOA; a written will takes even higher precedence; and a preneed funeral contract or cremation authorization form takes the highest precedence of all although future case law could potentially affect how this statutory hierarchy plays out.
Therefore, if you prefer to be cremated, you may also want to use the North Carolina Appointment of Agent for Body Disposition and Authorization for Cremation form, which additionally clarifies whether your authorized agent must arrange cremation or may consider other final arrangements. If you prefer to be buried, and you do not wish to establish a preneed funeral contract, then you might also want to use another properly witnessed written statement to enforce your preferences.
What if you have left no written directions for final arrangements? According to North Carolina statute § 130A-420 again, the following competent persons in the order listed may be the authorizing agent for your funeral arrangements: a surviving spouse; a majority of adult children; surviving parents; a majority of surviving adult siblings; a majority of adult persons in further degrees of kinship; or a person who has exhibited special care and concern for the decedent and is willing and able to make decisions about the disposition. (The ordered list continues, but would apply only to very unusual situations.) One observation to make here is that committed partners who are not spouses likely would not fall under the privileged category of surviving spouse, which makes using other written means as outlined above especially important for committed but unmarried couples of any sexual orientation.
A funeral provider informs me that state law requires a grave liner or vault. Is this true?
No state law requires outer burial containers but cemeteries have the right to require them as a matter of business policy. It is illegal for a funeral provider to state that outer burial containers are required by law in North Carolina.
Is it legal for a cemetery to force me to purchase a grave marker through them?
To our awareness, no federal or state statute specifically addresses this issue. However, case law supports the position that consumers may indeed supply their own marker, as long as the marker is in keeping with the cemetery's regulations governing marker size, style, color and other characteristics. In Moore vs Jas Matthews & Col (1977, appellate 1982) it was determined that cemeteries cannot tie the sale of grave markers to their installation and that outside grave marker dealers and installers are permitted to perform foundation and installation work subject to reasonable cemetery rules, regulations and specifications. In Roseborough Monument Co. vs the Memorial Park Association (1981), this was reaffirmed but the ruling stipulated that cemeteries do have the right to establish reasonable rules, regulations and specifications for anyone to perform that work.
Consumers who want to provide their own grave markers should get approval in writing for a specific grave marker from the cemetery before that grave marker is purchased. However, in our research, we learned of a number of ways that cemeteries can discourage consumers from purchasing grave markers from an outside source. One writer in Bakersville, California, said the local SCI-owned mortuary/cemetery handling a burial of one of her friends told the family that SCI would warranty the marker against breakage or damage by lawn mowing equipment only if it was purchased from the cemetery. These types of manipulative practices are further evidence of the need to bring more cemeteries under the scrutiny of the Funeral Rule.
If you believe that a cemetery is obstructing your right to provide your own grave marker, we would like to know of the problem. You might also try complaining to the North Carolina Cemetery Commission if the cemetery is a for-profit entity (as opposed to a municipal cemetery). Their phone number in Raleigh is (919) 733-4151.
In North Carolina, a consumer buys space rights in a cemetery plot, crypt or columbarium, but does not actually purchase the land involved. Therefore, instead of a deed, the consumer would receive an interment certificate conferring such rights. The documentation should clearly identify the location and specific rights involved, and it is reasonable to request a map that shows the place to which the rights point.