Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to prompt change. That is certainly the case for the cemetery and funeral home industries in Illinois. Something of a perfect storm has created a statewide awareness on the need to centralize the oversight of funeral homes and cemetery businesses.
Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to prompt change.
That is certainly the case for the cemetery and funeral home industries in Illinois. Something of a perfect storm has created a statewide awareness on the need to centralize the oversight of funeral homes and cemetery businesses.
It began in July, when allegations of a scheme to dig up as many as 300 bodies and resell burial plots at Burr Oak Cemetery near Chicago became the focus of a national news story. If that incident were not enough, a lawsuit filed by funeral directors has revealed that the Illinois Funeral Directors Association lost an estimated $100 million from its pre-need funeral fund. The trust was established to pay for funerals for more than 40,000 state residents and once was worth as much as $300 million. How that money was lost, who is responsible for that loss, and whether the state bears any responsibility for an apparent lack of oversight are all at issue for Illinois funeral directors.
A special commission appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn has reported that there are currently 37 state statutes governing the operation of cemeteries and funeral homes in Illinois, which are enforced by several state agencies. The events at Burr Oak and the financial catastrophe that has befallen the IFDA pre-need fund offer evidence that these laws and the existing agencies do a poor job protecting Illinois residents from fraud and criminality.
State legislators return to work in October, and fixing the mish-mash of laws and agencies responsible for the oversight of cemeteries and funeral homes must be a priority.
Recommendations put forth by Quinn’s commission call for removing the regulatory authority for these businesses from the state comptroller’s office and placing that job solely in the hands of the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Further, the commission is calling for regular inspections of cemeteries by licensed professionals who could be fined if they did not follow regulations. Funeral directors would be required to tell next of kin that they should visit a cemetery before purchasing a gravesite. The state would also have to have electronic records that show precisely where bodies are buried.
All of these recommendations are strong medicine that would quickly heal the wounds afflicting the cemetery and funeral home industries.
Legislators should act without consideration of politics, and in due course, to address these issues.