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AG James issues guidance reminding consumers and funeral homes about consumer rights

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Sat, May 2nd 2020 03:25 pm

Lauds action to ease funeral home backlog

Attorney General Letitia James on Saturday issued guidelines to protect New Yorkers using funeral homes, and reminded funeral homes her office will take action against any entity that violates consumer rights. James also lauded action by the New York State Cemetery Board, for which the attorney general advocated, that will address severe cremation delays in the downstate region and make it easier for funeral homes to transfer deceased to upstate crematories with more capacity.

“New Yorkers are grieving the loss of our families and neighbors,” James said. “I’m appreciative that the New York State Cemetery Board adopted emergency regulations that we hope will ease the backlog at funeral homes. While the challenges the funeral home industry faces are unprecedented, deceased New Yorkers must be treated with respect and dignity, period.”

The emergency regulations adopted by the New York State Cemetery Board on Friday, the AG’s office said, “will sensibly streamline crematory regulations so that funeral homes can transfer deceased awaiting cremation to crematories with ready capacity.”

With this change, for which James advocated and the attorney general’s designee to the Cemetery Board voted, funeral directors, with the consent of the family of the deceased, can now manually correct cremation authorization forms rather than needing to create a new form and obtain another physical signature from the person arranging the funeral, causing significant delays.

With more than 12,500 individuals dying from COVID-19 in New York City alone, downstate crematories have been overwhelmed and are unequipped to handle the exponential increase in need. As a result, thousands of deceased await cremation or burial while stored at funeral homes, in trucks, and other temporary storage spaces.

“The loss of so many New Yorkers so quickly from this pandemic has not only torn at the fabric of the Empire State, it has also completely overwhelmed the limited capacity of the New York City Metro area nonprofit crematories,” said David Fleming, New York State Association of Cemeteries. “While New York City’s crematory personnel are working around the clock to serve these impacted families, they cannot possibly handle this volume of loss. Today’s emergency actions by the State Cemetery Board modified regulations to provide downstate access to upstate crematories where surplus capacity exists. These actions will help to expedite closure for grieving families and address the backlog of remains destined for cremation. We applaud the leadership of the attorney general and her staff in supporting these families, those lost and the dedicated crematory workers serving both.”

Additionally, the office of attorney general issued guidance for grieving families and loved ones as they navigate the funeral planning process during this difficult time.

Those arranging funerals should be aware of certain requirements and recent executive orders and emergency regulations that impact funerals and funeral arrangements in the following ways:

•At this time, only the immediate family of the diseased may gather at the funeral home for a private viewing/ceremony and graveside services. The number of attendees should be kept to as few as possible while maintaining social distancing, which is at least 6 feet apart.

•Documents related to funeral arrangements may be signed electronically during the current public health crisis. However, this does not apply to the cremation authorization form, which still requires a physical signature. Cremation authorization forms may be witnessed remotely.

Emergency regulations adopted by the New York State Cemetery Board allow funeral directors to transfer deceased from crematories operating with extensive back logs to crematories elsewhere in the state that have more capacity.

It is illegal for funeral homes to add a surcharge or additional fees for services to those who died of COVID-19, or any other infectious disease. Moreover, funeral homes may not refuse to embalm or otherwise handle the body of a deceased loved one, regardless of the cause of death.

The complete guidance document regarding funeral planning during the COVID-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the office of the attorney general website.

New Yorkers can submit complaints regarding funeral homes through the office of the attorney general (OAG) consumer complaint form or with the Department of Health. Complaints regarding cemeteries or crematories should be directed to the Department of Cemeteries.

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