News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 18, 2009

Struggling economy raises questions on how to pay for indigent burials

TERRE HAUTE — The expense of death in hard economic times usually is trumped by the cost of living.

Who plans for funeral costs when it is tough enough to cover housing, utilities and food?

When a person dies in Indiana with no savings, insurance or family able to pay for the funeral, the financial obligation falls to a township trustee. But even then, the amount that a trustee will pay does not cover basic burial costs.

That shortfall has Vigo County Coroner Dr. Roland Kohr concerned that area funeral homes and cemeteries will stop accepting indigent, or pauper, burials. This, in turn, would lead to a further dilemma of what to do with the corpses of the poor because there is limited storage space for bodies in the county.

“In the 20 years I’ve been coroner,” Kohr said, “there’s been no increase in the amount from the trustees. The rates haven’t changed since the mid-’80s. In this economy, that is not an option.”

In Indiana, township trustees are charged with the task of paying for pauper burials from their poor relief funds.

The standard amount is $450 to a funeral home for burial, and up to $450 to a cemetery for opening and closing a grave.

But those amounts do not come close to covering the cost of even a direct burial, which does not include a funeral with a ceremony and visitation. Mortuaries must absorb the loss.

Kristi Smith of Roselawn Funeral Home said a direct burial covers a cardboard container for the deceased person, but no embalming, funeral or visitation. Even with the $450 from the township trustee, she said, family members making arrangements are asked to pay another $150 out of pocket just to approach covering the funeral home’s expenses.

“Most families can usually do that,” she said, “even if they just ‘pass the hat’ among themselves.”

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