Funeral homes, coroner’s offices at odds over cremation fees

It’s not clear when coroners in Louisiana began charging grieving families a fee for the permit needed to cremate their loved ones
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 4:12 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It’s not clear when coroners in Louisiana began charging grieving families a fee for the permit needed to cremate their loved ones, but a new legal opinion clearly spells out that there is nothing in state law to support that practice.

The consequence is that dying in Louisiana may be more expensive for your family, depending on which coroner has your body.

That’s because some coroners across the state are now abandoning the fee, which has padded their budgets for years and made dying in Louisiana more costly for families. Other coroners will continue charging families for cremation permits.

The I-Team dug into the fight that this legal opinion has sparked between funeral homes and coroner’s offices across the state.

Mike Clark is the funeral director at Church Funeral Services. He calls the legal opinion from Attorney General Jeff Landry a victory because he believes the fees should have never been charged in the first place, based on Louisiana law.   

“The statute and the law is very clear that coroner’s offices are budgeted by the taxpayer dollars and they have a budget and they’re not to charge for the cremation letters or some other items that they’re charging for,” said Clark.

That fee typically ranges anywhere from $50 to $125. Funeral homes with absorb the fee or pass that cost on to you in order to get a permit to take care of a loved one. Clark says the fees should not be collected and believes the coroner’s offices that do are essentially breaking the law.  

“I don’t see how they can continue when the law is very plain,” said Clark.

Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich is the Jefferson Parish coroner and also serves as the president of the Louisiana Coroner’s Association. Since the Attorney General came out earlier this month his office, like many across the state, has stopped collecting those fees for now. He takes offense to the suggestion that coroners are breaking the law. Instead, he says most coroners who have ben charging the fees are simply following long-standing guidelines that have been in place for years.  

“On behalf of every coroner I take that very personally because nobody is out there intentionally breaking the law, they’ve just kind of done it the way it’s always been done,” said Dr. Cvitanovich.WAFB’s Scottie Hunter if he was blindsided by the opinion.

“I would say so because I would guess that billing a fee for cremation permits is something that predates every coroner in the state I’ll bet because it’s been going on for multiple decades,” said Dr. Cvitanovich.

There is now a question over what happens next and what happens to all the fees that have already been collected over the years. Clark says his funeral home sees roughly $20,000 in fees for cremations every year from just one coroner’s office. He believes those families that have faces fees over the years should be reimbursed but he admits getting that money into the right hands and tracking down who is even owed a possible refund will be a tall order.  

“Certainly it’s going to be difficult because you think about that we’ve serviced a family maybe 10 years ago and the individual that took care of those arrangements that were the legal next of kin has now passed away. It may be difficult to try to find out who their heirs are or if there’s an estate,” said Clark.

That is the one thing Dr. Dvitanovich agrees with. He too thinks it would be hard to issue any of those refunds but he says it’s way too early for refunds to even be on the table.

”As far as whether or not those fees need to be reimbursed, I think the first thing we need to do is find out if they are actually illegal,” said Dr. Cvitanovich.

For now, there’s a push to get clarification on the Attorney General’s opinion. Dr. Cvitanovich says while that process plays out, he would also like to see lawmakers take up the issue and actually make the law more clear.  

“It was never really a significant issue but it is now and so I would hope that the legislature addresses it,” said Dr. Cvitanovich.

Right now, only two coroner’s offices are continuing to charge those fees, Orleans and St. Tammany.

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