Funeral Funding Using Insurance Assignments Made Easy – Funeral Homes Should Not Be Banks!

May 21, 2009

While the focus of Funeral News is to report on death-care related events, we consider our sponsor to be an important asset in the advancement of our cause.  As such, we have asked American Funeral Financial to provide this guest article to our readers.  The following was provided by the fine folks at American Funeral Financial, LLC.

afflogoYou just received a first call.  The family is facing something that, for them, is unusual and, in many cases, unexpected – the death of a loved one.   Not only are they dealing with the emotion of their loss, but are soon to be faced with the costs associated with paying for – what for most is one of the most expensive single purchases of their life.

As funeral directors and/or death care providers the family comes to expect, especially in this day and age, expert service.  What the family may be unprepared for is the immediate need for payment for the goods and services that funeral professionals provide.  On the other hand, unless the family can pay with cash, a valid check or major credit card – you, the funeral service provider, are relegated to becoming a bank.

Times have changed and so have expectations.  Assume for a moment that you were to receive your paycheck on Friday and today is Tuesday.  Could you go to Walmart and purchase groceries with the promise of payment from your check on Friday?  Could secure a cell phone from Verizon with the promise of payment in the future?  The obvious answer to these, or similar questions, is a resounding – NO!  It is no longer reasonable to assume that funeral service providers should be forced to wait for their funds considering the difficulty that many face with insurance assignments today.

Due to the rising costs of goods and services, more and more funeral homes and cemeteries are requiring payment in full prior to providing funeral services getcashnow-newor making the interment.  With the economy today, we find more and more families are relying on insurance as the funding vehicle to pay for those services.  Unfortunately, it can take weeks or even months for the insurance company to pay the claim to the beneficiary or funeral home.  In addition, the paperwork associated with funeral financing via an insurance assignment is becoming more complicated and time consuming, taking valuable time away from doing what you do best – serving families.

American Funeral Financial has created an industry leading proprietary system that takes the burden off of you and your staff and makes the process of funeral funding through insurance assignments easy.

  • No longer do you have to verify the insurance assignment with the insurance company – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to due the burdensome paperwork – American Funeral Financial does that for you.
  • No longer do you have to have experience waiting for your funds – American Funeral Financial pays you the next day following verification.

The process is simple.  Once you have signed on with American Funeral Financial – Your Funeral Funding Experts – you’ll have access to our simple web-based entry system.  Working with the American Funeral Financial web system is easy.  Sign in and in less than 10 minutes you will have the paperwork done and the verification process begun.  American Funeral Financial does the verification for you.  Once you have been notified that the assignment can be done, you will have the beneficiary sign the paperwork (that we prepared for you on the web) and we will fund your services.  It is that simple!  Fees to AFF are competitive and come directly from the policy assignment proceeds so funeral homes and cemeteries are paid their full fee for services rendered.  There is no cost to the funeral home or cemetery.

No waiting for your funds, no hassle, no problems!  American Funeral Financial is a full service firm that is run by professionals with years of experience in the death-care industry.  AFF knows what you need when you need it.

But there’s more!  American Funeral Financial knows that you need your money for services rendered.  You do not need to be the bank!  Likewise, so do the beneficiaries.  Therefore, as part of the process – when your firm has signed up with American Funeral Financial – the funeral funding experts – the beneficiaries of the life insurance policies being assigned are eligible to have advanced to them the remainder of the policy to take care of any short term funding needs that they may have personally.  That’s right – you are paid and they get the funds advanced to them for the remaining part of the policy (assuming they want a personal cash advance).

Our team working for your team when you need it the most – because the cash you have today can have a profound effect on the success of your business tomorrow!


SCI Face Complaints Over Mishandled Baby Remains – Is SCI at Fault?

May 4, 2009

The following is an article that was written by Josh White,a Washington Post Staff Writer.  Read the article and then consider answering the following questions:

  1. 1.  She was told the “Memorial wouldn’t fit” – is it the responsibility of the cemetery to make sure that the merchandise sold will be appropriate for the last resting place of the deceased?

2.  It is alleged that the depth of the grave was insufficient.  It is stated that standard depth for the burial of a coffin would require 18 inches of topsoil to cover the grave.  Therefore, is 8 inches of soil covering the top of the cherub sufficient?

The article is as follows:

A hole began to appear in the fresh dirt over Jordan Hale’s tiny grave at Mount Comfort Cemetery weeks after her burial, prompting cemetery workers to cover the site with a granite slab. Mourning the loss of her stillborn daughter in July 2007 and wondering what was happening, Nsombi Hale was informed that a grave marker she had chosen would not fit and that her baby would have to be reburied. But Hale later learned from a cemetery employee that that wasn’t the real problem.

Instead, Jordan’s small white coffin — called a cherub — had been placed in a shallow grave and covered by just eight inches of soil. When Hale went to witness the disinterment, workers pulled it out in a matter of five minutes, she said.

“It never crossed my mind that something questionable was going on,” Nsombi Hale said, tears slowly rolling down her face. “But it was clear that the grave wasn’t deep enough. They mishandled the remains of my baby, and she deserved more than that.”

The Alexandria cemetery is one of 12 in Virginia owned by Service Corporation International, a Houston-based funeral services conglomerate that is facing allegations of mishandling as many as 200 bodies over the past year at a central preparation facility in Falls Church. SCI owns more than 1,700 funeral homes and cemeteries across the country, making it the largest company of its kind. State regulators are investigating.

A customer, contractors and several current and former employees told The Washington Post in an article this month that conditions at SCI’s central facility at National Funeral Home were disrespectful and unsanitary. They said that bodies of retired military officers destined for Arlington National Cemetery were stored on a rack in the garage for weeks or months and that bodies that had not been embalmed were left in unrefrigerated areas of the facility, where they decomposed and leaked fluids.

Family members of retired Army Col. Andrew Degraff have since filed lawsuits in Fairfax County against SCI. Hale also filed a lawsuit against the company last week in Fairfax, her attorney saying that she had been traumatized by watching her daughter’s grave opened.

“Throughout the disinterment and reinterment, the disturbing odor from the cherub permeated the air at the site, sickening [Hale], who forced herself to remain until her daughter had a proper burial,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jack Burgess.

Virginia law and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation do not specify how deep graves should be, but cemetery officials in Northern Virginia said coffins are generally buried with at least 18 inches of soil above them.

SCI Virginia Funeral Services, a division of SCI, said in a statement that it discovered the problem with Jordan’s grave and “proactively self-reported the issue to the family and made every effort to resolve it.”

“Although Virginia law does not require a minimum depth of interment, once we determined that the interment did not have 18 inches of depth from the top of the casket to the top of ground level, we alerted Ms. Hale to request her permission to disinter and re-inter Jordan P. Hale,” the company said in a statement, also expressing sympathy for Hale’s loss. “As part of our commitment to transparency, if we make a mistake, we are committed to doing the right thing.”

Hale said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has nightmares and trouble trusting people.

“I needed to be there for Jordan,” Hale said, adding that the beautiful ceremony weeks earlier, with balloons and goodbyes, was dignified and special, in contrast to the shovels and backhoe that accompanied the reinterment. “I wanted to stay to make sure it was done properly.”

In a letter to Burgess on Feb. 14, SCI Market Director Christopher Downey apologized to Hale but said, “Mt. Comfort performed its services as requested,” and noted that the cemetery provided Hale with a refund check of $2,488.75. She has not cashed it.

Downey, who has management and oversight responsibilities for SCI’s 13 locations in the Washington area, wrote that the initial burial was “too shallow” and that a four-inch-thick granite slab was placed over the grave after “an animal had been spotted by the gravesite.” Downey also wrote that cemetery employees strongly advised Hale not to view the disinterment but “despite our warning and insistence, she demanded to be present.”

He offered to donate $500 to charity in Jordan’s name as recompense, according to the letter.

Whistleblowers who have brought the allegations about mishandling of bodies at SCI’s central preparation facility have said that Downey is at the heart of problems there. Steven Napper, a former Maryland state trooper who worked as an SCI embalmer, said he went to Downey in January to raise concerns about the inappropriate storage of bodies in the garage and unsanitary conditions.

Napper said Downey, whose office is at National Funeral Home, brushed him off and appeared to ignore the complaints. Napper later reported his concerns to a Virginia regulatory board and resigned in February. After the Post article appeared, SCI launched an internal investigation.

“I went to Chris Downey personally in January to explain that there was not enough storage capacity at central and to discuss my concerns about the handling of the deceased,” Napper said. “He knew all about it, but he did not respond.”

Requests to speak with Downey were referred to an SCI spokeswoman.

“All of us want to know the facts behind what happened, and we’re diligently conducting an investigation,” said Lisa Marshall, the spokeswoman. “If we find wrongdoing, we will promptly take the necessary corrective action required.”

Family members of two military officers whose bodies were stored on unrefrigerated garage racks said Downey contacted them just before the first Post story ran and said that the allegations were false and were coming from a disgruntled former employee.

Richard Morgan Jr., whose father, Maj. Richard Morgan, was left in his light oak coffin on the racks before his burial at Arlington in February, said Downey backed down when Morgan said he had seen photographs of the conditions in the garage.

“I got a little irate, and I said, ‘I’ve seen the pictures, and you can’t dispute the pictures. These aren’t just allegations,’ ” Morgan said. He added that Downey offered him a refund and that he recently received a check for $14,111, though he said he does not plan to cash it as he pursues legal options.

Hale, who has a 9-month-old daughter named Zoe, said she is suing SCI because she wants things to change at Mount Comfort Cemetery. Burgess, her attorney, said the company already appears to have acknowledged that the burial did not go as it should have.

“It was done out of laziness, it appears, and out of a desire not to dig a deep hole,” he said. “I don’t think it was done maliciously, but it was done fairly recklessly. Nsombi wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. With big corporations, sometimes the only way to get their attention is to get into their pocketbook.”

It is easy to understand how there can be concern on the part of the family in this situation.  However, without specific regulations governing the required burial depth for an infant, the question remains – is SCI at fault or is the Washington Post writer capitalizing on other negative news relating to the handling of human remains in their northern Virginia operations?


Funerals – High Costs, Add-On’s and Your Last Chance To Be A Big Spender! Is The New York Times Article Accurate?

April 21, 2009

It’s always interesting to read about funeral perceptions and where the industry / profession is headed.  A New York Times article written by Gabrielle Glaser addresses that very issue.  The question is – based on what we are hearing – how much truth is there to the idea that folks are spending the same or more for their funerals – since it’s the last thing they can do for their loved one?nytlogo152x23

Let’s take a look at sections from the article and perhaps you can comment with your thoughts.

EVEN in these hard times, Peter Moloney, a funeral director, believes that people should have what they want.

The funeral industry is offering customized products — including urns with a theme.

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select  19death4-190wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

“You have to give people something special,” says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. “If you’re not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today.”

Now it is true that Long Island may not be main street America, but it is interesting to ponder if those who live outside of the more affluent areas of our country feel the same when it comes to add-on’s and personalization with added costs.  Prior to the economic downturn, there was evidence that personalization and memorial add-on’s were helpful in increasing the average traditional funeral.  The effect of which was, for most firms, a way to stabilize their revenue loss from increasing cremation.  The NY Times article goes on to say:

Even in a tough economy, of course, people in the funeral business have something that executives in many other industries don’t: a guaranteed, and expanding, pool of customers.

“The honest-to-goodness truth of the matter is that everybody does die,” says Arvin Starrett, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association and the owner of Starrett Funeral Home in Paris, Tex.

Revenue in the American funeral industry will grow 1.2 percent this year, to $20.7 billion, estimates Toon van Beeck, a senior industry analyst at IBISWorld, the research firm. That’s down from a 2 percent gain last year — but, hey, it’s still growth when companies in other industries are reporting double-digit losses.

Americans may be living longer than ever, but the reality of a graying nation is stark. The annual death rate of about 2.5 million has been rising about 1 percent a year, and is expected to spike in the early 2020s as older baby boomers reach their mid-70s.


Many firms are reporting an increase in cremation that placing accelerating pressure on their traditional revenue stream making it harder to support the large facility required for traditional funerals and the debt load associated with those buildings.  On average cremation is one-third or less the cost of a traditional funeral and is becoming increasing popular as evidenced by the inclusion of popular movies like the “Bucket List.”

“It’s rather amazing the death care references made in that movie,” states American Funeral Financial VP Chuck Gallagher – formerally a sales VP with Stewart Enterprises.  “Not only was cremation embraced with ease, but both characters romanced the idea that their remains could be placed on a mountain far from where any family member could visit or remember.  For that matter, their remains were placed in a ‘Chock Full of Nuts’ container.”

The Times article goes on to state:

Some insiders suggest that the business could be headed for a restructuring as radical as that sweeping through the music or newspaper industries, especially as baby boomers approach their final act.

The same generation that questioned convention in sex, birth and marriage will probably do the same in death care, says Char Barrett, 48, a funeral director in Seattle and the owner of A Sacred Moment, a business that helps families prepare the bodies of loved ones at home. For a home funeral, she charges $1,450 to $2,595.

“It’s your funeral, your choice — and the industry needs to recognize that,” Ms. Barrett says. “Or it can stay in the box, and drive itself out of business.”

A PREFERENCE for cremation is already transforming the funeral industry in the United States. Cremations will account for a projected 38 percent of all deaths this year, compared with 26 percent in 2000, according to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry group based in Chicago.

And if you care a little bit less about ceremony, and are ready to allow your body to go up in smoke, then all of the trappings of traditional funerals matter less as well — like fancy caskets, says Jerry Sullivan, a second-generation funeral director in Chicago.

“Back in the day, families might spend $10,000, $12,000 on a solid African mahogany casket, have an all-out wake and such,” he says. “Those days are over.”

Today, many funeral directors offer hardwood or metal rental coffins for a short period before cremation, Mr. Sullivan says. He charges roughly $1,000 to rent a hardwood casket for a daylong viewing; a body is placed in a combustible container of cardboard or soft wood, and inserted into the rental coffin lined with fabric.

“We were early adapters,” says Mr. Sullivan, who has rented coffins since 1976. “You want to stay alive in this business, you anticipate your customer’s needs.”

For those who are budget-minded, but don’t want to rent, they can buy coffins at Costco, which offers a selection from $924.99 to $2,999.99.

The Times article (you can read the full article here) is full of ideas that are catching on in various markets and circles.  The following questions remain:

  1. Are families spending the same amount or more for funerals today as compared to two years ago?
  2. How significantly is cremation rising in your market?
  3. Are low cost alternative – Costco – affecting your business?
  4. Do you think as Baby Boomers age and die their generation will radically change the market place for funeral goods and services.


Green Burial – News Coming Out of Texas. Land Conservation and Burial Combined – A Novel Idea!

April 15, 2009

The Parks and Wildlife Department in Texas plans to become the first government agency in the U.S. to let families lay cremated remains in protected forests for a fee to help the state buy more land for conservation.

Texas will cater to people concerned about environmental impacts of the “death-care industry,” Ted Hollingsworth, the agency’s director of land lens1295546_mountain_springs_sunsetconservation, said in an interview.

“If tens of thousands of people want to take advantage of this opportunity annually, it could easily double the rate at which we’re adding lands to state parks,” Hollingsworth said.

In a Bloomberg article Joe Sehee, Executive Director of the Green Burial Council, had comments that the $12 billion-a-year U.S. funeral industry will need a makeover to meet new demand for back-to-Earth burials and low- energy, low-emission cremations. Customers are now curious about products from biodegradable embalming fluid to caskets made of recycled cardboard.

Consumers are forcing changes on the industry, Sehee said. He expects to have advised cemetery and funeral associations on eco-burials in more than half of the 50 U.S. states by year-end.

“A year ago we had a dozen providers in our network,” Sehee said in an interview. “We have more than 300 now. What’s changed in a year is people see this as an opportunity.”

Champion Company of Springfield, Ohio, will introduce a non-toxic biodegradable embalming fluid this month that provides “reasonable temporary preservation,” said James Bedino, head of research and development. The product, Enigma, challenges the industry’s use of toxic formaldehyde, steel caskets and concrete vaults, all meant to prevent decay.

Cremation, already seen as a more environmental option than a traditional burial, is getting even greener, said Paul Rahill, president of the cremation 00000581division of Matthews International Corp., a casket supplier. Pittsburgh-based Matthews this summer will introduce its newest model of a recycled cardboard casket. The product avoids the use of virgin hardwood, weighs half as much as a wood casket and costs 75 percent less. Cremations in the U.S., which account for 37 percent of burials, are rising by 1 percent a year, Rahill said.

“Their choices have been pretty limited in the past,” Rahill said in an interview. “I can do a cherry paper veneer that looks almost like a cherry hardwood casket.”

Matthews has also developed computer-controlled heat sensors that make cremation furnaces up to 40 percent more energy-efficient. The company later this year plans to install the first bio-cremation system in the U.S. that will use hot water, pressure and an alkali chemical instead of combustion.

“One of our biggest markets is what we call ‘mantle people,’” Ziadie said in an interview. “Cremated remains that are sitting on the mantle with loved ones. They may be there for years. The family may be looking for closure.”

Texas officials are completing a contract with the Green Burial Council to let funeral directors charge a fee for scattering cremated remains in state parks. Part of the revenue will help Texas buy land for conservation.

Green burials represent a small but growing portion of the $12 billion spent annually in the U.S. on funeral and burial services, said Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association. In a 2007 survey by AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group for people 50 and older, 21 percent said they were interested in green burials. That number jumped to 43 percent in a 2008 survey, Sehee said.

Given a choice would you prefer a “Green Burial” for a deceased family member of yours?


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Faye Schilling and Jean Crump Charged with Cashing in on Fake Funerals – Their Take $1 Million!

April 13, 2009

Times may be hard, but when you move to death fraud you’ve hit a new low in white collar crime!

According to the US Attorney’s office in LA – two women – allegedly participated in a scheme to cash life insurance policies for fictitious individuals and istock_000006314744xsmallstage  funerals to create the appearance that the individuals had died.

According to the indictment, Shilling, a phlebotomist, and Crump, an employee at a now-defunct Long Beach mortuary, defrauded multiple insurance companies over a three-year period by cashing life insurance policies for non-existent identities, whom they claimed had died. As part of the scheme, Shilling and Crump allegedly caused the preparation of bogus death certificates, purchased burial plots and staged phony funerals to lend credibility to the scheme. When staging the funerals, the women allegedly filled caskets with various materials to make it appear they contained actual corpses.

Shilling and Crump allegedly defrauded several lending companies that advance cash to cover funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the decedent’s life insurance policy. Shilling, Crump and their accomplices allegedly filed false documents with the County of Los Angeles stating the remains of one man were cremated and scattered at sea, when in fact no corpse existed. The indictment further alleges that defendant Crump offered a medical doctor $50,000 to create records supporting the fake death certificate.

Now reading this several questions exist.  How does one cash in insurance policies for non-existent people?  If they didn’t exist then how was a life insurance policy issued.  It would make sense if they had cashed in policies on folks who had not yet died – claiming that they had died.  But to cash in policies on folks who don’t exist defies imagination.

According to a report in

The US Attorney stated said the “dead” were likely fictitious people, but said identities of real people may have been stolen.

In one funeral at a Long Beach mortuary, authorities alleged that the women loaded a casket with various items to simulate the weight of a corpse they called “Jim Davis.” They purchased a plot in a Compton graveyard, had a funeral and had the casket buried.

Talking about identity theft.  Can you imagine the complication of dealing with the IRS and Social Security Administration when it comes to convincing them that you are still alive?  Being “dead” and trying to get your tax refund could be quite an ordeal.  Oh well…sorry for the digression.

In addition to the life insurance claims, which included a $250,000 policy, prosecutors said the women secured payments from financing companies to pay for inflated funeral costs.  We talked with representatives from American Funeral Financial (one of our sponsors) to ask about precautions for such activity.

We (at American Funeral Financial) work hard to provide service to our customers – the many funeral homes and cemeteries across the country that rely on us for funeral funding.  This story is quite amazing and not remotely normal in the standard course of business.  We make sure that we know our customers and have a comfort level of their viability before we enter into any funding transactions.  The steps we deal with to make funeral funding decisions should prevent this type of fraud from happening.  Still this is quite amazing.

Funeral funding companies scammed were Jackman Financial Corp. in Chicago; AC Moore Financial Services in Pomona; and Advanced Funeral Funding in Portsmouth, Va.

Shilling and Crump were charged with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud insurance companies and lending companies out of more than $750,000.  Two other women, Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, owner of a mortuary in Long Beach, and Barbara Lynn, 54, a notary from Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty in the alleged scam, said Montero, and he believed that more arrests were likely.

Schilling, who was freed on bail, denied the charges. “That’s a lie,” she said. “That’s not my line of work, that’s not something I do. . . . That’s not true.” She declined to comment further. Crump and her attorney could not be reached immediately.


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National Funeral Directors Association Responds To Washington Post Article

April 8, 2009

There is little doubt that the failing economy has had its effect on families far and wide – meaning that many who have experienced the loss of loved one(s) find that they are cutting back on the funeral service and burial arrangements.  A Washington Post article has drawn the attention of the public and the National Funeral Directors Association.

Feeling that the Post’s article was one sided and portrayed the news conference conducted by several funeral directors inaccurately, the NFDA issued a istock_000001773919smallstatement of clarification.  The statement is reproduced below:

On March 31, NFDA held a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the association’s annual Advocacy Summit. The purpose of the press conference was to candidly convey to the media the results of an informal survey NFDA recently conducted about the impact of the present economic crisis on funeral consumers.

Unfortunately, an employee of the Washington Post chose to grossly misrepresent the statements and insights offered by several licensed practitioners serving as NFDA spokespersons via an article and an online video posted the following day. The video, in particular, was a pure fabrication that resorted to a cut-and-paste method of editing NFDA spokesperson responses and placing them in conjunction with questions not asked during the press conference. Also deliberately misstated and misleading is the implication that NFDA sought “bailout funds” from the federal government for practitioners. Clearly expressed during the press conference is that the association briefly discussed the idea internally about seeking additional federal funds to help indigent or unemployed consumers offset funeral and burial costs during the present economic crisis – another fact this employee chose to misrepresent.

It remains unclear if the views conveyed in both the article and video reflect the biased, ill-informed perception this employee holds about funeral service or if his intent was to offer some sort of ill-conceived “April Fool’s” joke that failed miserably.

Regardless, NFDA regrets that this individual blatantly chose to perform such a disservice to readers of the “Washington Post” by providing a slanted point of view, perpetuating stereotypes and resorting to broad-brush, hackneyed clichés instead of reporting the facts. NFDA General Counsel T. Scott Gilligan has contacted the Washington Post, expressed the facts and requested the immediate removal of the video.

NFDA encourages consumers and licensed professionals alike to read another article that resulted from the same press conference, which conveys an unbiased reflection of the statements and insights offered, at More information about the present impact of the economy on funeral consumers is also available by calling the NFDA Public Relations Department at 800-228-6332.

The News and Observer’s report states the following:

Funeral directors are turning down their thermostats, doing their own laundry and not buying new hearses, according to a new National Funeral Directors Association survey.

The reason: Funeral home revenues are weakening as more consumers opt for cremations, cheaper caskets, shorter viewing periods and cheaper wakes. Also suffering are trusts and stock funds in which funeral homes invest money from clients who prepay for their funeral arrangements.

While is it important to fairly represent comments made at the meeting, one thing that seems to be glossed over is the very real loss of trust fund assets.  Not only have funeral trust funds suffered losses as the economy has scaled back, but so have perpetual care trust funds used by cemeteries to provide maintenance.

Many states require certain minimum funding amounts for perpetual care trust funds.  If a cemetery perpetual trust fund falls below the minimum established by law then the state would naturally require the organization to fund the deficit.  Reports indicate that many firms, especially larger ones whose trust funds were invested more aggressively have lost massive amounts and may be facing a cash shortfall when make up funding is required.

Hopefully, we will soon see an economic turn around that will reduce the impact on families, firms and trust funds.

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Green Burials or Green Funerals – How Green is Green?

April 8, 2009

Everything these days seems to be going “green.”  I recall last spring a nationwide supplier of flowers and plants ran an add campaign that promoted the “pot” the plants were placed in.  They weren’t saying how beautiful their plants were or how wonderful your yard would look when adorned with an assortment of their plants.  Rather, they were touting that the containers the plants were placed in could be buried right there in your yard and that they Printwere biodegradable.

Well, it seems that the “Green” movement has taken root in the funeral and cemetery industry.  Recently the National Funeral Directors Association released a question and answer series on “Green Funeral Service Questions and Answers.” While it needs to be stated that there is no licensing organization that has defined a “Green Funeral or Burial” – the NFDA is taking the lead in addressing questions about how funeral service professionals deal with the growing demand for “Green” products and services.

Below is a reprint of the NFDA Questions and Answers:

What is a green funeral?

A green funeral incorporates environmentally-friendly options to meet the needs of a family requesting a green service. A green funeral may include any or all of the following basic options: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or casket; using recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers, organic food; carpooling; arranging a small memorial gathering in a natural setting; natural or green burial.

What is natural or green burial?

In a “purist” natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. Any shroud or casket that is used must be biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers; some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites. A “natural or green burial” may also simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.

What is a green cemetery?

A green cemetery is a burial site that does not permit vaults, non-biodegradable caskets or embalming chemicals. It uses no herbicides, pesticides or irrigation for maintenance of the cemetery grounds. Any material used at a green cemetery must meet the goal of replenishing the earth. There are cemeteries in the U.S. that accommodate both conventional burial practices and vaultless burial on their premises; others incorporate some features of a green cemetery such as sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization.

The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993; in the ensuing 15 years, the number of green burial grounds in the UK has grown to nearly 40. In the United States, one of the first natural burial grounds was opened in 1996 in western South Carolina. Some green cemeteries are established as conservation areas in accordance with specific state laws. There are now green cemeteries in 10 states – California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Utah – with more under development. The resource section at the end of this Q&A provides a link to U.S. green burial information.

When a cemetery does require a vault, do I have “green” alternatives?

Check first with the cemetery to determine what is allowed, such as:

  1. Casket protectors or grave liners that are open on the bottom, such as those used in Orthodox Jewish funerals, so that the body comes into contact with the earth.
  1. Using a regular vault that is turned upside-down.

What about cremation? Is it considered “green”?

In general, cremation is not considered “green” because the cremation process uses nonrenewable fossil fuels, even though cremation does use fewer resources than conventional forms of disposition. Cremation also produces airborne emissions. However, cremated remains do not need to be interred in a cemetery, which reduces land use.

What is a green funeral home?

A green funeral home is a business that operates in an environmentally-responsible manner. Owners and staff comply with environmental protection, health, and safety laws and regulations, and follow NFDA’s environmental, health, and safety best practices. Green funeral homes are energy-efficient and follow resource-saving practices, operating in a manner that is sustainable. Sustainable in this sense means business practices that do not deplete resources and that only will have minimal impact on the environment.

It is interesting that when one searches for Green Burial one of the first sites that arises is the title “Carolina Green Burials” which is the site for  As pointed out by the NFDA cremation is not “green”.  By some accounts it takes between 9 to 19 gallons of gas to properly cremate a body.  Hence the use of petrocarbons and the emissions released do not meet the standard of “Green” funeral or burial.  The argument in favor of cremation is it does not require the use of embalming fluid (although many bodies are embalmed before cremation takes place) and the lack of need for a specific burial space.  “Green” however, provides the natural return to the earth and hence the use of space is insignificant as, over time, it can be reused.

While there are many sources for information -for more information about “Green” burial contact Joe Sehee, who is the founder/executive director of the Green Burial Council.  He has worked in the green burial field since 2002 and the deathcare industry since 1999.  A senior fellow with Environmental Leadership Program Fellow and a PERC “enviropreneur,” Joe also consults land trusts, park service agencies, and private landowners interested in developing burial grounds as a strategy for protecting natural areas.  He can be reached at 888-966-3330.

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