Coroner to poor: Pay $1K or county keeps remains

Associated Press

A coroner in western Illinois is facing sharp criticism for how he handles poor people who can’t afford to bury their loved ones: He has them sign over their rights to the deceased, leaving them without the death certificate, then cremates the body and keeps the ashes until the family pays $1,000.

If they cannot come up with the money, the ashes are eventually buried, along with others, in an unmarked grave. If the family needs the death certificate to access bank accounts or life insurance, the coroner first arranges for the county to recoup its costs from any proceeds.

Adams County Coroner James Keller says the policy started after the state, which for years has faced billion-dollar deficits and unpaid bills, announced it was too broke to pay for indigent funerals and burials – shifting the cost to funeral homes and county coroners. Of the $1,000 people pay, he says $800 goes to the funeral homes and $200 to the crematory.

The county’s poverty rate of 13 percent is on par with the overall rate in Illinois. Keller says his approach protects taxpayers in the small county along the Mississippi River, ensures local funeral homes get money for their services and gives poor families an alternative to paying for a full burial. He’s continued the policy even though the state has resumed paying for the funerals.

“We do our very best and our due diligence to taxpayers, and we try to be supportive of families, with the hand that we’re dealt with by the state,” Keller said.

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