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November 2014

Mineral Interests in Cemeteries

The nature of burial rights is an interesting and complicated property question.  Burial rights are more like an easement or a license than a fee simple interest in real estate.  But I'd never considered whether mineral rights may be sold in cemeteries, and whether that would be inconsistent with burial rights.  An interesting short piece on that topic can be found here.

Tanya Marsh

Former Boston Funeral Director Faces 278 Charges

Being a funeral director normally carries with it an obligation to be licensed properly in the state where the director is practicing. For example, the good residents of Boston can only be licensed as funeral directors if they possess a high school education (or its equivalent) and have passed an approved funeral-directing course. For more information about these requirements and others that are statutorily imposed, click here.

The O’Donnell & Mulry Funeral Home in Boston brings special attention to this issue, as a recent police investigation revealed human bodies and cremated remains that were entrusted to the funeral home, in a storage unit in a nearby town. Twelve bodies were found and identified, but next of kin have only been located for nine of these bodies.

Furthermore, Joseph V. O’Donnell is accused of the following: stealing from thirty-one clients who pre-paid for funerals, performing 201 illegal funerals as an unlicensed funeral director, embezzlement, larceny, forgery, and returning a false death certificate.

Statutory regulations exist to provide for the safety and protection of consumers. Planning a funeral for a loved one is often the most emotionally trying time of a person’s life, and it is easy to take advantage of consumers who are confused, distraught, and often in a hurry. An argument can be made for more strict regulation of funeral directors and funeral establishments in order to prevent undue influence and duress on this vulnerable class of consumers. At the very least, it seems that thorough enforcement of existing regulations is a problem that has yet to be resolved.

Read the full article at

Crissy Dixon

Roll Over Beethoven: Monty Python Tops British Funeral Charts

A press release on November 21 revealed that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is the most requested song at British funerals. The announcement came from the UK’s largest funeral director, The Co-Operative Funeralcare which conducted research based on over 30,000 funerals.  Traditional pieces such as “The Lord is My Shepherd” and Elgar’s “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations remain popular but 84% of UK funeral directors say that requests for hymns and classical pieces are quickly declining. Among the popular songs to top the list were Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Joining Monty Python under a category labeled “Humor” were Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire.” Several songs associated with popular “football” teams also topped the list.

Have the Brits lost their minds? According to David Collingwood, The Co-Operative Funeralcare’s Operations Director, the results may be a reflection of the increasing personalization in modern funerals. This phenomenon is not unique to the UK. In July of this year, the Huffington Post published an article on the rise of personalized “fun funerals” in the U.S. Among other things, the article addressed funeral-based reality TV shows, tombstone shaped cookies, and morticians who perform magic acts. In September, mourners remembered the legendary comedienne Joan Rivers with a “huge showbiz funeral” complete with moving eulogies, x-rated jokes, and Broadway performances, including the showtune “Hey, Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. Fellow comedienne Whoopi Goldberg described the funeral as a “truly funny, truly loving send-off by folks who loved her…funny and deeply moving, much like her.” A recent conversation with my own mother revealed that instead of a funeral, she would like to be remembered with a red wine toast against a backdrop of Janis Joplin songs.

It is often said that funerals are for the living, not the dead. But a move away from traditional funeral services may temper this distinction and also may help the grieving process. Friends and family can have more creative freedom to remember the deceased as they lived and how they would want to be remembered. In addition to reducing the somberness of a funeral, a more customized ceremony could be more effective at providing families with the closure they need.

It’s hard to imagine “Great Balls of Fire” becoming the next funeral anthem in the U.S., but like the Brits we seem to be looking on the bright side of life. For the funeral world it looks like “fun” is the new black. 

Kayla Frederickson

Disinterring a Founding Family of NYC

More people are buried in Queens than are living there now. This is a story of some of the departed.

Precisely how many will not be known, though, until a bulldozer breaks ground early next year for a 42-story apartment tower in Long Island City, on the site of what was once a cemetery, owned by a family that settled there 350 years ago.

The Van Alst family cemetery was rediscovered only a little more than a decade ago, after the city decided to rezone the mostly industrial tract for residential, retail and office development.

After two developers, H & R Real Estate Investment Trust and Tishman Speyer, announced in June that they would build on the site, they were required by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which issues guidelines for archaeological work, to make a good-faith effort to find any descendants of the last known member of the family, Harry Van Alst, who lived in Queens in 1925.

Read the rest of the article at the New York Times.

Tanya Marsh