County addresses indigent burial costs

By Monroe Roark Times Correspondent

The process of burying a loved one is obviously filled with emotional upheaval in addition to the many details that have to be addressed after someone’s death. Typically it also carries with it a financial cost that can be quite high for many.

What the average taxpayer may not know is that Henry County government sets aside money each year for the disposition of those deceased who do not have the financial means for a proper burial.

Whenever a person dies in Henry County and the decedent’s family and immediate relatives are indigent and unable to provide for a decent interment, Henry County, through the Department of Family and Children Services, will provide indigent burial assistance in the exact amount to be determined by the Board of Commissioners, according to county officials. Section 36-12-5 of the Georgia Code applies to the legal authority and obligation on the part of the county in bearing interment expenses of the indigent.

The county code stipulates that the county would provide no less than $75 for indigent burial, and the maximum was raised to $500 at the April 21 meeting of the Henry County Board of Commissioners.

Chairman Tommy Smith, who recommended changing the ordinance, noted that the county had been paying $500 in some cases and that total probably did not cover the actual costs.

County officials said more than 60 indigent burial cases had been paid out since 2007.

There are typically two kinds of cases that lead to an indigent burial. One is when a person dies and the family simply cannot afford the cost of the disposition. The other is when the deceased has no immediate family in the area and relatives cannot be located. It is usually the job of the local police to track down the next of kin in those instances.

One such case took place in February, when a Henry County man died in his home of natural causes at the age of 67. Coroner Donald Cleveland said the man lived alone and his children were located in Texas, but they were estranged and wanted nothing to do with the deceased.

An administrator was appointed by the Henry County Probate Court to serve as temporary guardian and oversee the disposition. This is standard procedure when necessary, but it is the only time the probate court is involved, according to a court spokesperson.

The indigent burial process is overseen by DFACS, and as with any state agency there are certain guidelines to be followed. According to one county official, the agency has a form that applicants can fill out in an attempt to qualify for the service.

Once that is done, the DFACS office finds a local funeral home or service that will handle the case for $500. All indigent cases in the county are cremated, but while that process is less expensive than traditional burial, it is still more costly than the amount designated, meaning the funeral home essentially is performing a type of “pro bono” service for the community when agreeing to handle a disposition.

It is not an everyday occurrence, but as one DFACS official said, “It happens more often than you think.”