Advertisement

Archive for Thursday, July 23, 2009

Even death is unaffordable for some

July 23, 2009

Advertisement

Albert Gaskin, caretaker at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, looks over the cremated remains of unclaimed bodies. More people are finding themselves unable to pay the fee to claim a relative’s remains.

Albert Gaskin, caretaker at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, looks over the cremated remains of unclaimed bodies. More people are finding themselves unable to pay the fee to claim a relative’s remains.

— The poor economy is taking a toll even on the dead, with an increasing number of bodies in Los Angeles County going unclaimed by families who cannot afford to bury or cremate their loved ones.

At the county coroner’s office — which handles homicides and other suspicious deaths — 36 percent more cremations were done at taxpayers’ expense in the last fiscal year over the previous year, from 525 to 712.

The county morgue, which is responsible for the indigent and others who go unclaimed, saw a 25 percent increase in cremations in the first half of this year over the same period a year ago, rising to 680 from 545.

The demands on the county crematorium have been so high that earlier this year, officials there stopped accepting bodies from the coroner. The coroner’s office since has contracted with two private crematories for $135,000 to handle the overflow.

“It’s a pretty dramatic increase,” said Lt. David Smith, a coroner’s investigator. “The families just tell us flat-out they don’t have the money to do a funeral.”

Once the county cremates an unclaimed body — typically about a month after death — next of kin can pay the coroner $352 to receive the ashes. The fee for claiming ashes from the morgue is $466.

• • •

Christopher Agosta’s ashes are among those waiting.

Last month, the coroner called his sister, Tarnya Baker, 41, of Amesbury, Mass., to notify her that Agosta, 43, of West Hollywood, had shot himself in the head. Although Baker was her brother’s next of kin, they had not spoken since he left Massachusetts for California 15 years ago. Only after he died did she learn that he was in debt. He shot himself as sheriff’s officials attempted to evict him. He left a note giving his possessions to the local AIDS clinic.

Baker said she wants to claim his ashes, but she and her husband have two children and a struggling glass-glazing business. During the past two years, they have had to lay off their two employees.

“I know that I can’t afford to handle all this,” Baker said. “I can’t afford to fly out there and ask questions.”

• • •

Coroners and funeral directors around the country say they are seeing the same trend as cash-strapped families cope with funeral costs. Just claiming a body from the Los Angeles County coroner costs $200. Once a body is claimed, private cremations usually run close to $1,000, Smith said. Funeral homes charge an average of $7,300 to transport and bury a body in a simple grave, according to the National Funeral Home Directors Association.

“No one is immune from this,” said Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association in Sacramento. “The economic malaise we’re in is affecting everybody.”

Smith said that in his dozen years at the coroner’s office, he cannot remember seeing such a high number of families unable to afford the cost of claiming a body. If families ask, coroner’s staff will refer them to several funeral homes, including Allen English & Estrada Funeral Services in Bell Gardens, which offers cremations through its Cremation Society of Los Angeles.

The society’s director assistant, Joseph Harvey, said cremations have increased about 15 percent since the economic downturn last year. His office cremates about 400 bodies a year and charges about $700.

Harvey said the funeral industry is trying to do a better job of marketing itself. He said the casket manufacturers he deals with have stopped selling some expensive models as demand wanes.

“Families are making different choices based on the economy, choosing different caskets or urns or holding shorter services,” said Jessica Koth, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Home Directors Association. “They’re cutting back on floral memorials. If they have a funeral procession, they’re not having the family limousine.”

Smith said he has seen many families go to great lengths to claim their loved ones’ remains, despite financial setbacks.

“We’ve had families try to have car washes and other little fundraising events. ... They try to do right,” he said.

• • •

For the dead left to the county, officials attempt to recover cremation costs from the estates. But the county does not require relatives to prove they are too poor to pay.

Smith said his office, with a strapped staff of four, cannot investigate. If records later show a family could have paid to claim a body, by law the county can recover the cost.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, first vice president of the California State Coroners’ Association, said his office recently began requiring applicants for county-funded cremations to submit a three-page application listing bank accounts, property or other assets.

“We figure that will be a deterrent,” Foucrault said. “We have found people that take advantage of the system. They do have the funds to pay but feel because they have been estranged from somebody, they shouldn’t have to be responsible for the burial.”

• • •

In Massachusetts, Christopher Agosta’s sister said she is determined to do the right thing.

“He is my brother,” Tarnya Baker said. “He died alone. I’m bringing him home.”

She has two years to claim his remains. If she doesn’t, Agosta’s ashes will be buried with those of hundreds of others in a pauper’s grave.

Comments

Kookamooka 4 years, 9 months ago

I think it's amazing that people would just "hang their family members out to dry." Calling someone terminally stupid because they have a heart is such a Republican opinion.

Moral obligation? It would be immoral to turn my back. So yes...my kids will have to get scholarships and loans and work to get through college. Just like I did.

0

costello 4 years, 9 months ago

"If a person commits suicide or even legally assisted suicide, life insurance is taken away no matter how many thousands of dollars were contributed by that person over the course of their life."

In Kansas, if the policy has been in force for 2 years or more at the time of the suicide, the beneficiary can collect - no matter what the policy says. There are similar laws in other states.

0

costello 4 years, 9 months ago

"Other states, Pennsyvania, require you to ask for money from living relations before they will allow you to get welfare benefits."

So say 'no.' You're not obligated to support these relatives. Especially if you're spending your kid's college money to do it.

P.S. You're also not obligated to send your kids to college. Many of us paid our own way.

0

Kookamooka 4 years, 9 months ago

P.S. Inheretance? That's funny!

0

Kookamooka 4 years, 9 months ago

They don't live near us. Other states, Pennsyvania, require you to ask for money from living relations before they will allow you to get welfare benefits. They are all three vets so they do get some financial assistance but it isn't enough. They do not have any savings-all were in Vietnam and haven't been able to hold decent jobs. Two live together in Ohio. Different states handle it differently. We are just trying to help and it's hurting.

0

smitty 4 years, 9 months ago

Do you get the inheritance when they die??? Own up to the truth of the situation.

If your relatives are in that much need of financial and physical assistance then you are not making yourself available to the many programs out there to help during illness or age related disabilities.

The only time I personally saw a family try to work around the system to receive aid and was unhappy was because the frail and elderly had assets that the family did not want attached by SRS. The supporting family members were concerned over the free and clear title to the farm getting attached to pay for the SRS assistance.

If that is your concern then take a look at greed as a factor.

At any rate, there are all kinds of financial, medical, personal care programs, etc available to you and yours whether you are required to reimburse or not.

0

kubacker 4 years, 9 months ago

You have no moral obligation to care for and/or pay the bills of three adult men who failed to make financial/health care provisions for themselves. If you actually use your family resources to pay their bills instead of helping your own kids get a college education you are terminally stupid and deserve detestation by your children.

0

Kookamooka 4 years, 9 months ago

Keeping elderly relatives alive has nearly bankrupted my family. Three bachelor uncles with multiple health problems and no health care has become a major burden for us. We were not even close to these men but we are being strapped with the cost of their care and will eventually be strapped with the cost of their deaths. My own children will not be able to attend college because of this situation. Most people don't realize the costs associated with death and probate court if no will exists. If a person commits suicide or even legally assisted suicide, life insurance is taken away no matter how many thousands of dollars were contributed by that person over the course of their life. It isn't fair. These financial products to help people can actually hurt the families left to cope in the long run. Read fine print!

0

Commenting has been disabled for this item.