In 2011, in Olympia, Washington, a funeral home improperly pulled up cremated remains after discovering they were located on an easement pipe. While the removal and replacement of the cremains was permitted, the funeral home was required to comply with Title 68.50.200 of the Washington State Code, which requires consent of the cemetery and the written consent of the surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings of the decedent. Only when Beth Johnson noticed that her loved ones’ remains were moved and complained to Washington’s Department of Licensing did negotiations begin between the Department and the funeral home.
While Johnson is finally able to see justice because the Funeral and Cemetery Board will issue sanctions next week, this story calls for more vigilant oversight of the funeral services industry in Washington. While Washington law requires funeral homes to report the movement of remains, there is clearly no consistent mechanism that enforces this. The main oversight here is that the city of Olympia, while it required the funeral home to move the remains from the easement pipe, neither the city nor the funeral home contemplated any legal obligation to notify families of movement of remains. While the funeral home attempted to comply with the city by moving the remains away from the easement, it was woefully wrong to do so without notifying families—especially given the fact that the funeral home is licensed as is held to a professional standard. At this point the funeral home could receive sanctions anywhere from fines to outright revocation of license. Johnson’s story shows that legal oversight pertaining to cemeteries is generally ignored—even by the funeral services industry itself.