Utah County to review fees for home-based funerals

Government » Payment covers staff time to handle a death certificate.
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Before Parr Young died in January, he and his wife Kathleen decided on a home funeral.

There would be no undertakers, no embalming and no going to the funeral home for the viewing. Parr Young was laid out in a room in the eastside Provo home, surrounded by family pictures for the visitation.

"For me, it was a wonderful experience," Kathleen Young recalled.

The only glitch was filing the death certificate. She was charged $100 by the Utah County Health Department for the filing.

Had she used a funeral home, the funeral director would not have been charged the fee.

The Utah County Board of Health agreed Monday give families more information online about how to file a death certificate, and revisit the fees in September to see if they cover the actual cost of processing the certificates.

In 2009, the Legislature repealed a 2006 law that said only funeral directors could file death certificates. But county health departments are allowed to assess fees for handling a filing from a family member.

The fees range from $25 in Salt Lake County for service during weekdays -- $50 on weekends -- to the flat $300 fee charged by the Southwest Public Health Department, which serves Garfield, Washington, Beaver, Iron and Kane counties.

Charging families to file a death certificate rankles Joyce Mitchell, president of the Utah Funeral Consumers Alliance, a group that promotes home funerals.

"You don't charge women who have a home birth an extra fee to file for a birth certificate," Mitchell said, "so how can you justify charging families who are caring for their own dead instead of hiring a funeral director?"

Marcia Racehorse-Robles, an Idaho woman who helps people with at-home funerals, said the fees add to a grieving family's burdens. In a phone interview, Racehorse-Robles recounted how one grieving woman in Utah was unable to pay $300 to get a death certificate so she could bury her husband in a traditional Indian ceremony.

Racehorse-Robles was able to help the woman get the certificate in Salt Lake County for a fraction of the cost.

Andrea Shoell, Utah County's deputy vital records registrar, said the extra fee covers the cost of making sure the forms are filled out correctly.

Funeral directors, Shoell explained, file death certificates electronically, and many doctors can sign death certificates through a secure Web site. Do-it-yourself funerals, on the other hand, have to be processed by hand and entered into the computer.

"My staff is not used to filling it out," Shoell said. She said the three family-filed death certificates her department processed since the law changed took 45 minutes each -- including calling the doctor to verify the signature on the cause of death.

A second worker is required to ensure accuracy. Deputy Health Director Ralph Clegg said the fee is based on a $30-an-hour wage for the clerks.

Racehorse-Robles said the information from the families is just as trustworthy as from the funeral directors. She said the funeral directors have to obtain the information from the families in the first place.

Contacted Monday, Kathleen Young said she would like to see families be able to file the information electronically just as funeral directors are allowed.