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Funerals/Disinterment for Cremation

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Question
My mother passed away 31 July and always declared she never wanted to be put in a box.   My aunt buried her without asking us what we wanted or what she wanted. What are the costs and procedures associated with disinterment in Baltimore,  Maryland?

Answer
Hi Bridgett,

Your problem is a common one - too few people pre-plan their final dispositions these days and leave it up to family members who need to do so on short notice, leaving other family members out of the process for a variety of reasons - no time, oversight, spite, etc. It's unfortunate (and hopefully a reminder for you to plan for yourself!!)

Luckily, the physical act of disintering cremated remains is much easier than moving a body (unless the interment was a natural burial, in which case one usually signs a form agreeing that there's no going back!). The challenge for you is whether or not you have the right to do so.

With respect to costs and procedures, your best bet is to contact the cemetery directly, as those vary from cemetery to cemetery based on company/organizational policy. In the process of learning the costs and procedures you'll also find out whether or not you have the right to engage in a disinterment and re-placement of the cremated remains.

Cremated remains are generally considered personal property* and, once the cremation has been performed, the location of the remains are no longer a concern of the State. Accessing those remains in the cemetery is another matter entirely. Next-of-kin laws - and laws about who controls the disposition of the remains - vary from State to State.

* Contrary to accepted law, there's a recent court ruling that says cremated remains AREN'T personal property and can't be divided: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-couple-fights-over-custody-sons-crem
The judge(s) may have ruled incorrectly, as cremated remains have been divided for years (contrary to the court's findings, which seem at odds with reality). There's certainly no public health or safety reason why a court should have ANY say in whether or not cremated remains remain whole or not, and if this ruling stands it will have a LOT of confusing consequences and eventually need to be undone. For example, cremated remains are NOT a "dead body"; that's been established numerous times and makes it possible to keep ashes uninterred, in urns, for indefinite periods of time. Of course, this IS Florida, and each State is free to make its own laws unless someone challenges it and it makes it to the Supreme Court -  but that's another story...

For you, the cemetery should be your first place for information. In addition to costs and procedures, they'll be able to tell you whether or not THEY think you have the right to disinter under Maryland's laws, and they may be able to point you to the Maryland Statute that supports their position. If they say you don't have the right but you think you do, you can call the Maryland board to help you understand any position of the cemetery you disagree with.

Here's the Maryland FAQ: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/cem/cemfaqs.shtml  

Finally, if things still don't go your way, you can always do as the Florida folks have done and find an attorney to help make your case, but I hope it doesn't go that far!

On that last note, once you've got the facts and figures from the cemetery (and BEFORE you put on the boxing gloves) remember to ask your Aunt if she'd support a disinterment with a re-distribution of the remains. Perhaps some could be buried and some shared among other family members to each honor your mother as they see fit. You'd be surprised at some of the options available for cremated remains (and family members' opinions!) and it really is a good opportunity for the family to come together around an often difficult subject rather than be rendered further asunder by arguing over something that the object of your care - your mother - might not want you to become a divided family over.

Hope this helps.

best,

Cynthia  

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Cynthia Beal

Expertise

Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.

Experience

Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Sustainable Cemetery Management Group. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and 9 years running the Natural Burial Company. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions.

Organizations
ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

Publications
American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

Education/Credentials
There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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