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In This Issue
What do you mean..."vested right"?
Convention speakers & presentations
Convention Registration Info
Elections! Nominees sought!
Fairmount acquires Opportunity
Should I sign this?
A Whopper (Jr.) of a tribute
Observations: Refusing service
Louisiana monks score win
McClain retired, Morley hired
Assorted Useful Links
Suppliers: Interested in advertising?
Bulletin Board

Vol. II, Issue V




About this article From Washington State Law: RCW 68.32.020: Vested right of spouse or state registered domestic partner. The spouse or state registered domestic partner, of an owner of any plot or right of interment containing more than one placement space has a vested right of placement in the plot and any person thereafter becoming the spouse or state registered domestic partner, of the owner has a vested right of placement in the plot if more than one space is unoccupied at the time the person becomes the spouse or state registered domestic partner, of the owner.


"I just read in the law where I have a 'vested right' to use the graves that are held in our name ... I mean were held in our name." There she stands right in front of you waving a copy of the RCW and a cemetery deed, demanding that she be allowed to bury her son from an earlier/later marriage. And, there you are saying as sweetly as possible, "Not according to our records."


In our continuing review of "Title and Rights to Cemetery Plots," known to legal types as RCW 68 Chapter 32, we turn our attention to the 'vested right' statement found within and what it means to a cemeterian when demands are being made.


Let's look at a real case. Decades ago, six graves were purchased directly from a gentleman who wanted fast liquidation. Purchase was made with funds from buyer's parents who asked that he hold such in his name for the future family use. At the time the cemetery in question did not buy back graves. Title was issued by the seller placing the new owner's name on the deed. Married at the time, the new "owner of record" did not have his wife's name on the deed. By virtue of RCW.32.020 she "has (had) a vested right of placement in the plot" for use of the "unoccupied" graves ... a vested right that she never exercised.


Sightlife 6-2013 Let's look a little further. Could the new owner disallow his wife her vested right while married to her? After reading the following what do you think? RCW 68.32.030 Vested right - Termination. No conveyance or other action of the owner without the written consent of the spouse or state registered domestic partner, of the owner divests the spouse or state registered domestic partner, of a vested right of placement. A final decree of divorce between them or certification of termination of the state registered domestic partnership terminates the vested right of placement unless otherwise provided in the decree. The answer is right in front of you. "No ... action of the owner without the written consent of the spouse ...divest the spouse ... of a vested right of placement."


What does "vested right" mean? Vesting means giving a secured right immediately. In the case of Title and Rights to Cemetery Plots it means unoccupied burial space ... that's right ... a secured right immediately.


Time moved on and the owner of record was divorced. No mention of burial space were contained in the decree, thus the first wife no longer held a "vested right." Time continued on and the owner of record re-married. Now the second wife has the "vested right" of using unoccupied burial space. If you don't believe that just re-read RCW 68.32.020 at the top of this article.


Back to our friend standing right in front of you waving a copy of the RCW and a cemetery deed, demanding that she be allowed to bury her son, and you were sweetly saying, "No you don't." You might want to read aloud both RCW 68.32.020 and 68.32.030 to her, kindly of course, and ask her if she sees anything within that confirms her claim. Cemeteries are hit on a regular basis to explain what "vested right" means. Even though this writer is not an attorney, he believes anyone can find the answers in the forgoing.


Next article we will move on to RCW 68.32.040 - Descent of title to plot or right of interment. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where cemetery recording departments at times want to tear their hair out. Take a deep breath and hang on.




The speakers and presentations...


lohman Nancy Lohman, ICCFA President - Nancy Lohman, along with her husband, Lowell, is the former owner of the largest private funeral company in Florida, before transitioning the company to Stonemor Partners, upon her husband's retirement. Nancy now serves as Florida regional director of Stonemor's Lohman Funeral Homes, Cemeteries and Cremation. Nancy will discuss the emerging pet memorialization industry. Is a pet cemetery for you? Find out! Nancy is only the second woman to serve as president of the ICCFA in its 128-year history, and is also a past president of the Southern States Cemetery and Funeral Association.


Randall Earl Randall Earl, NFDA Past President - Randall Earl is co-owner of Brintlinger and Earl Funeral Homes of Decatur, Ill, and is the immediate past president of the National Funeral Directors Association. He has been a licensed funeral director for more than 40 years and is committed to the funeral service profession on both a state and national level.





mangelson G. Kent Mangelson, CFP, Author, Senior Advisor for Estate Planning at American Society for Asset Protection. G. Kent Magelson is an expert in the area of lawsuit protection and tax reduction strategies. He has authored and co-authored several publications and training manuals on the subject including "The Advanced Tax and Asset Protection Training Manual" and "The Asset Protection Bible." Mr. Mangelson will address What every funeral director and cemeterian needs to know about Asset Protection, Tax Reduction and Estate Planning.


pursel Mike Pursel, Mike Pursel Advertising - Mike has been involved with media advertising since 1976. He represents a diverse group of clients that include funeral homes and cemetery groups. Mike will ask and answer the question Is Your Marketing and Reputation on Life Support? Dr. Pursel from the Mike Pursel Advertising Clinic will diagnose what advertising viruses cause the most damage to your company and whether they should be surgically removed, and which should be resuscitated.  A Bad Reputation is curable!


darcie Darcie Sims, Grief Inc. - The ever-popluar Darcie Sims, who uses her own unique brand of humor as a special type of grief therapy. She is a bereaved parent, nationally certified grief management specialist, a psychotherapist, and a board certified hypnotherapist. An international speaker on grief, Darcie co-founded Grief Inc., and international grief consulting firm. She is a well known author, international speaker and currently writes for Grief Digest.





terry Terry School, The Davis Whitehall Co. - Terry established The Davis Whitehall Co. in 1991. With his extensive background in woodworking, chemical coatings and specialty finishes, Terry has found his calling in the funeral industry working closely with directors and their families in creating a one of a kind lasting memorial for their loved ones.








katz Dan Katz, Creative Director LA ads - LA ads is a full-service marketing firm that, in addition to its many other clients, offers a specialization in the funeral industry. Originating during the recession of 1991, it grew to become one of LA's largest independent advertising agencies, known as PKPF. Among the clients that they have served in the funeral profession are: Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary, Stewart Enterprises, Homesteaders, Mount Sinai Memorial parks & Mortuaries and Green Hills Memorial Park. Dan will discuss Creativity in All Things: How to Become More Idea Prone.  This is directed to anybody in any department who has any influence on a company's operations, from accounting to marketing to management.  Being more creative opens up doors that were previously closed, or not even seen before.  The presentation discusses how to be more creative and bashes the myth "I'm not creative."  We will use a variety of exercises and examples to help attendees discover that they are indeed creative beings once they get past the self-imposed barriers to creativity. 


dennis Dennis Boser, Jr., Superintendent of Cemeteries for SCI's Seattle Market, is a passionate advocate for serving families in absolutely the best ways possible.

In his presentation Total Customer Service From the Grounds Up Dennis will lead a lively discussion on little and big things you might never think about doing, but should. He has observed the good, the bad and the ugly in customer service and has used his experiences to craft his entire approach to death care. As cemeterians, we are the eternal keepers of memories. Let's share some stories!




pifer Arlyn Pifer, Options by Batesville - Arlyn joined Batesville Casket Co. in 2008, and joined the Options by Batesville team in May of 2010. He has assisted hundreds of independent funeral homes in the United States in improving their presentation, offerings and results with cremation families. Currently he supports national accounts, regional consolidators and several key accounts in the United States. His primary focus continues to be helping funeral homes in analyzing their cremation business and ensuring that they have all the necessary knowledge to address this ever-evolving segment. Arlyn will discuss overcoming cremation marketing challenges.


See the links below to download your convention registration forms. BE SURE to reserve your hotel room right away!! Room block to be released July 22. 

 Register today





* * * 







Elections to the WCCFA Board of Directors will be held during the Aug. 23 Membership Meeting


ONLY voting members in GOOD STANDING will be able to cast a ballot.


Voter Designation Forms are being mailed to all voting members per the by-laws of the WCCFA: 


"Article III Section 3. A member in good standing may designate any of its officers or employees to act for it in the Association, and to vote at all meetings, provided that only one vote be cast by each member property. Such designation shall be on a "Designation of Voting Rights" form authorized by the Board and mailed to each member along with notice to the annual meeting. Members shall submit the "Designation of Voting Rights" form by return mail no later than seven (7) days prior to opening gavel of the annual meeting, or submitted in person by the designate voter to the Secretary-Treasurer prior to opening gavel. There shall be no proxy or cumulative voting." 


WOULD YOU LIKE TO RUN FOR THE BOARD? It doesn't take that much of your time and it's a great way to get involved with the doings of the WCCFA...and yes... there IS a free lunch! Click here for a brochure with more information about the board and how it works.


Have you renewed your WCCFA membership

for 2013?


Renewal forms were mailed at the end of December, and reminders went out recently. However, if you can't find your form but know you need to renew, click on the appropriate link below. 


VOTING member cemetery, funeral home, municipal/cemetery district

VOTING COMBINATON cemetery/funeral home member

NON-VOTING municipal or cemetery district



OM Ad 6-2013

Major Merger Announced in Spokane Valley:

Fairmount Memorial Association acquires Opportunity Cemetery Association

United by the common goal of serving the Spokane community, The Fairmount Memorial Association is pleased to announce it is acquiring The Opportunity Cemetery Association located at Pines Road and 16 th Avenue, and at Highway 27 and 32nd Avenue in Spokane Valley. Both are non-profit, community owned organizations that have served our area for many years. The Fairmount Memorial Association was founded in 1888, while the Opportunity Cemetery Association started in 1910.

pines "We are so proud to operate the two cemeteries located in the Valley," said Denny York, President and CEO of Fairmount Holdings, Inc. Mr. York has been a long time valley resident, and has worked in the valley most of his adult life. "I have many friends and relatives at rest in the Pines Cemetery," Mr. York added. "We want to assure everyone that the care and attention we give to our Fairmount Cemeteries will be implemented immediately at Pines Cemetery and South Pines Cemetery. The Spokane Valley community will quickly see improvements at both properties."

Speaking of the Fairmount Memorial Association organization, Neil Prescott, Vice President of the Opportunity Cemetery Association board of trustees said, "We're pleased with what we see and with Fairmount's plans for The Pines Cemetery and The South Pines Cemeteries. With their expertise and resources they will be able to do many of the things we had only hoped to accomplish. This change will be of real benefit to the Valley".

Milne 2013 The Fairmount Memorial Association currently operates 5 of the premier cemeteries in Spokane. Riverside Memorial Park and Greenwood Memorial Terrace, both on North Government Way in Spokane, Spokane-Cheney Memorial Gardens on the Cheney-Spokane Highway, Fairmount Memorial Park on West Wellesley Avenue behind Joe Albi Stadium, and Woodlawn Cemetery on the lower South Hill. Fairmount Memorial Association is also affiliated with Heritage Funeral Home and Crematory. With this acquisition, Fairmount Memorial Association is the largest, local/community owned full-service cemetery, funeral home and crematory operation in the Northwest.

An on-site sales department is now in place to assist with cemetery arrangements and provide information to those who are current property owners. Pines Cemetery is located on 35 acres at 16th Avenue and Pines Road and features the beautiful Pines Mausoleum, while South Pines Cemetery has 7 acres of developed land plus an additional 62 acres yet to be developed at 32nd and Highway 27. 

fairmount logo




Should I sign this?

Five questions to ask about contracts


poul In today's business world, it's hard not to encounter numerous contracts on a daily basis. Think about it. You go to get gas and swipe your credit card and enter your zip code to authorize a contract between you and the gas station. You stop by the grocery store and sign an electronic pad to buy groceries. The mailman delivers a package and you sign to indicate you received it with no problems. You get pulled over by the police and give him $100 so he won't write a ticket. OK, I was just trying to make sure you're paying attention with that last one.


The fact is, we are confronted with contracts every day. Our culture is so accustomed to contracts that we don't blink an eye when we are asked to sign this, initial here, provide this information. It's just what we do.


But in our businesses, are the contracts we draft and use legally enforceable? Do they protect us from future liability? This is a question you as a businessperson should always be asking.


A contract is only as good as its language and the information we ask for. While there is no way to answer every question about contracts, let's review five common questions about them. I'm going to review some scenarios where many people don't know what to do or, worse, know but for some reason don't do the right thing.


Does a notary make a contract legal?


No! The basic service a notary public provides is witnessing the execution of a signature. In general, the notary must verify the identity of the person signing the document, but does not check the validity or content of the contract.


lees ad 2012-13 for web The notary should look to see if the contract is complete, because he or she should not allow someone to sign a contract with blank spaces. However, just because the signature is notarized does not mean the language or any of the terms are enforceable. It merely means that the notary witnessed and acknowledged the person whose signature is on the contract is the one who signed it.


Nevertheless, one of the most common mistakes made by professionals is relying too heavily on a notary for identification of the contract signatory. While some states require identification to be presented to the notary, others do not.


The document language should dictate what sort of identification is provided. Many businesses get signatures notarized as a basic step, but do not do it properly. I suggest you have language in the contract like this:



Before me, a Notary Public in and for said County and State, personally appeared (     ), who executed this document and has provided to me his/her identification by presenting a copy of his/her driver's license or other identification (copy attached hereto) on the (   ) day of (   ), 2013.


By using language as stated above, not only will the notary verify the signatory's identification, there also will be a record of the identification provided through the attached copy. While this step still does not guarantee the terms of the contract, it will at least help a business verify who signed it.


Link to the rest of this article here


A Whopper (Jr.) of a life tribute becomes an Internet sensation


During the arrangements conference for David S. Kime Jr., an 88-year-old World War II veteran, his daughters described their father as someone who lived by his own rules and on his terms. I learned that one of the rules he refused to follow involved healthy eating. In fact, since the death of his wife, Grace, almost 25 years ago, he had eaten whatever he wanted to.


Despite being borderline diabetic for years and having a pacemaker, he enjoyed a variety of fast food. In fact, a lot of the talk at the beginning of my time with the family focused on his love for fast food, especially Whopper Jrs ®. At one point, his daughter Linda made a comment about stopping at Burger King on the way to the cemetery to get Dad one last burger.


burger hearse I think most traditional funeral directors would have ignored this comment, but celebrant training makes you more aware of opportunities to create a "one-of-a-kind" tribute. So, in addition to planning a traditional church service, we also planned a unique way to honor Mr. Kime.


The following day, I met with Margaret Hess, manager of a local Burger King®, to begin coordinating all the details. From the beginning, she was completely receptive to my idea of having Whopper Jrs. Given to everyone in the funeral procession as the cars passed through the drive-through. I also arranged to have one final Whopper Jr. made for Mr. Kime and given to the driver of the hearse.


I arranged for traffic control through officer Joel Hopta of the Northern York Regional Police Department. One of our part-time associates, Dick Ruppert, a retired police officer, discussed my plan and the procession route with the officer.


burger2 On the day of the service I contacted Mrs. Hess to let her know the approximate time we would arrive and the number of Whopper Jrs. We would need (40). On the way to Prospect Hill Cemetery, the funeral procession pulled into the Burger King and went through the drive-through. Everyone in each car was handed a bag containing a Whopper Jr.


We continued to Prospect Hill, where a local veterans honor guard was waiting for us to honor Mr. Kime's service to our country.


Following the folding of the flag and service by the honor guard, I placed the casket spray of lilies and roses atop the casket. Asking Linda to step forward, I handed her the Whopper Jr. that had been made for Mr. Kime, and she placed it in the middle of the spray. This was a special moment for the family and everyone else in attendance.


I have arranged/performed several memorable services. Although those services were far from ordinary, the tribute for Mr. Kime Jr., a member of the Greatest Generation, a recipient of the Purple Heart and an unabashed fast food fan, was truly unforgettable.


Article sourced from ICCFA Magazine for March-April 2013, reproduced in its entirety with permission. Author Nate Ray has been with Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory, York, PA since 2000. He is a Certified Celebrant.






Refusing service


"I never really thought it would get this kind of attention. Bad people get buried all the time, and this is what we do." - Peter Stefan


You enter any business and you are likely to see a sign somewhere displayed: "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."


Can you? Your state laws are very explicit on this matter. The Federal Civil Rights Act guarantees all people the right to "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the found of race, color, religion, or national origin."


How would you justify refusal of service? Peter Stefan, of Graham, Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Home of Worcester, MA unflinchingly accepted the care of the remains of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.


Matthews 7-1-13 If that name escapes you, Tamerlan, and his brother Dzhokhar, placed two pressure cooker bombs at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. The bomb explosions killed three and injured over four hundred. Many of the wounded suffered amputations, brain injuries, hearing loss and other life-altering injuries as they gathered to observe one of our country's most cherished and oldest events.


Several days later, when the brothers were identified, they went on a bullet flying, bomb exploding escape. The older brother Tamerlan took a stand against police and was shot. His younger brother, in the confusion, backed over him, escaped and was caught several days later.


Tamerlan lay in the Massachusetts Medical Examiner's office while his birth family (not his wife, a Muslim convert), sought to get him buried. His parents remained in their home country of Chechnya, leaving the duty to an uncle.


Life became difficult for Stefan as he accepted this call. Protestors had their presence in front of his funeral home. I can only imagine what else he endured.


Stefan sought burial for Tsarnaev as quickly as possible in the Muslim tradition. Cambridge cemeteries and city officials gave him no hope. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's office told the media that Stefan should not bother calling. Finally, the Al Barakh Muslim Cemetery in Doswell, VA agreed to provide a grave for Tsarnaev. Tamerlan's uncle was listed on the death certificate as the responsible party and drove his nephew's remains to the cemetery in a rental van. Stefan was disappointed that none of the funeral directors associations publically supported him. "This would have been their moment to shine."


premier 2013-2014 for web The Boston Globe, in an editorial, stated "Stefan upheld the decency of the Commonwealth." They concluded their editorial with: "It is a mark of a civilized people to treat dead bodies, even outcast adversaries, with dignity. At a time when other succumbed to hysteria, Stefan held firm."


In our nation's history, how were some of the other heinous killers handled at their death?


John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865, entered the booth at Ford's Theater and fired a .50 caliber bullet into the brain of President Abraham Lincoln, who died the next day. Booth fled into the Virginia countryside. On April 26, he was surrounded in a barn in Port Royal VA. He was shot and died. He was sewn up in a horse blanket and transported up the Potomac River. An autopsy was performed on the monitor Montauk. He was transported to the Old Penitentiary on the Washington Arsenal Grounds, now in an Army blanket. Later he was exhumed, re-examined at the Harvey and Marr's Funeral Parlor in Washington and released to the Booth family for burial in Maryland.


Leon Czolgosz, a name only hardcore historians would recognize, shot President William McKinley on September 6, 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. Czogosz was an avowed socialist and anarchist. As McKinley greeted visitors, Czogosz slapped away his hand and fired a .32 caliber Iver Johnson "safety automatic" revolver into the president. McKinley died eight days later of infection.


After his trial, Czolgosz was sentenced to death. On October 29, 1901, he was electrocuted by three jolts of 1800 volts. When he was pronounced dead, his brother Waldek asked for custody of his body, but was refused. An autopsy was conducted and burial followed in the prison grounds. They had originally planned to use quicklime, but were not satisfied it would completely dissolve his remains. The warden gave permission to pour sulphuric acid into his casket. They claimed the deterioration of his remains occurred within 12 hours. His clothes and letters were burned.


Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged killer of President John F. Kennedy, was shot in the basement of the Dallas police station by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Parkland Hospital where his alleged victim, President Kennedy, died.


Pontem new 9-2012 Upon his death he was released to Miller's Funeral Home in Tarrant County; arrangements made by his brother Robert Oswald. Robert Oswald purchased a #31 Pine Bluff casket through funeral director Paul Groody. Lee Harvey Oswald was buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park in Fort Worth.


On October 4, 1981, Oswald was exhumed to end speculation that it was a Russian spy lookalike that was actually buried. The tests performed concluded it was Oswald. The original casket was badly deteriorated and was replaced with another casket and vault and re-buried. The original casket was held by Baumgardner Funeral Home, successor to Miller's, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by Robert Oswald. The deteriorated casket was on auction and sold for $87,468 to an unknown buyer.


Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, was calm on the day of his execution. This Army veteran of the Gulf War killed 168 people (19 of which were children) and injured 450 others. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh died by lethal injection. Immediately after he was pronounced dead, he was removed to a disclosed [sic] location for cremation, reportedly in Terre Haute. The disposition of his cremains [sic] is also unknown. It was reported that portions of his cremains [sic] were scattered over several of his favorite areas and the remainder to his parents.


How will you respond when you are asked to serve such an individual?


I personally look at it as a matter of judgment. That ultimate decision is made by another, one much higher than me. A family has a need, I have a service to provide that need; unless they will not pay or are belligerent, I will provide that service. That is what we do.


"I run a business, and I've stepped up to the plate to do the right thing. Let's just get this over with, and move on." - Peter Stefan


Article sourced from Funeral Home & Cemetery News for July 2013 and reproduced in its entirety with permission. Author Steven Palmer entered funeral service in 1971. He is an honors graduate of the New England Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences. He has been licensed on both coasts, he owns the Westcott Funeral Homes of Cottonwood and Camp Verde, AZ. Steve offers his observations on current funeral service issues. He may be reached by mail at PO Box 352, Cottonwood, AZ 86326, by phone at 928-634-9566, by fax at 928-634-5156, by e-mail at steve@westcottfuneralhome.com or through his website at www.westcottfuneralhome.com or on Facebook.

Fortune bank 4-2013


Louisiana monks score second win in bid to sell caskets


A group of woodworking Louisiana monks is celebrating after a federal appeals court ruled they can sell simple hand-made caskets - and local funeral directors can't stop them.


In a March 20 opinion, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, La., have a right to sell caskets in their home state. The ruling affirmed a lower court's judgment, which said the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors cannot restrict the market only to licensed funeral directors.


"Funeral homes, not independent sellers, have been the problem for consumers with their bundling of product and markup of caskets," the 19-page opinion said. The "grant of an exclusive right of sale (for licensed funeral directors) adds nothing to protect consumers and puts them at a greater risk of abuse including exploitative prices."


PCM 1/2 page The monks' victory helps them pursue the livelihood they've forged in the years since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina decimated timber holdings that had previously provided essential income for the abbey. It also gives Louisiana consumers access to basic cypress caskets that sell for $1500 and $2000 - far below prices charged at the state's funeral homes, according to the court opinion.


"Our prayers have been answered," said Abbott Justin Brown, head of St. Joseph Abbey, in a written statement. "We are especially gratified that the Court's decision will protect the economic liberty of other entrepreneurs in Louisiana and around the country."


The Catholic monks of St. Joseph have long been buried in plain wooden caskets built by hand at the abbey. When they needed an alternate source of income after Katrina, they invested $200,000 to start St. Joseph Woodworks. They were able to sell in other states, but the Louisiana board moved in 2007 to block them from doing business in their own state.


With the ruling, the 5th Circuit parts ways with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2004 upheld a similar law restricting casket sales in Oklahoma. The issue could ultimately be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court if the board members decide to appeal.


Source: Unknown (provided by David Quiring)



McClain retired, Morley hired


Faye McClain

Associated Catholic Cemeteries is pleased to announce that the Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle, has appointed Mr. Fred Morley as the new Superintendent of Gethsemane Cemetery (Federal Way) and St. Patrick Cemetery (Kent). Fred began his new position with Associated Catholic Cemeteries in April. Fred has been involved in cemetery and funeral service for much of his life beginning with his Oakwood Cemetery, previously owned by his family. Most recently Fred had worked for Yahn and Sons Funeral

Fred Morley

Home in Auburn. Faye McClain, previous Superintendent, has retired from that position after more than 21 years of service at those cemeteries. We thank Faye for her many years of service and welcome Fred.



Richard Peterson

Director of Cemeteries

Archdiocese of Seattle




Does a signed contract expire?


No, for the most part. Once a contract is signed, it is valid and enforceable. If there are items in the contract that have not yet been fulfilled, it is up to the party responsible to complete them in order to satisfy the contract terms.


However, there can be time limits written into contracts and it is possible for one party to ask to cancel a contract before it is complete. (See the question below on changing a contract after signing it.) Without a time frame or cancellation, though, the contract remains valid and enforceable.


Here's a scenario that might arise in the death care profession that illustrates the point: A family signs a cremation authorization form - reluctantly - and asks you to wait to cremate due to some reason. For purposes of this example, let's say they want to wait until other family members arrive.


A few days go by and you do not hear from the family. You make several calls but you cannot locate anyone. All too soon, a couple of weeks have passed and still you have not heard from the family.


Koppenberg 1/4 page The question you now have: Is the authorization form the family signed (assuming you had all the proper signatures) still valid and enforceable? Can you proceed with the cremation or has the contract expired?


Technically, the answer is yes, the contract is valid and enforceable. If you have a written contract that states you can proceed with cremation, you have the legal right to do so.


But (there is always a "but"), there are a couple of questions I would always ask before proceeding in this type of situation: 

  • First, is there any language in the contract stating that the provider may proceed with the cremation on his schedule and as time permits? This is important language for any authorization form to include, because it gives the provider an "out" if there are technical delays or procedural problems such as the one I outlined.
  • Second, were any verbal agreements made between the provider and the family? While the written document will control in a legal decision, it is sometimes possible for supplemental verbal agreements to be considered. (This is different than a stand-alone verbal contract, which is addressed below.)

A provider should make sure the written contract covers everything offered and explained to the family. In the scenario we're discussing, If the family asks to delay the cremation until additional family members arrive, that should be noted in the contract.


Many providers simply place a note in the file, but this just causes conflict and potential problems. The instructions should be in writing, in the contract, and should include your provision that if there is a substantial delay or if the family fails to respond within a certain amount of time, the cremation may proceed.


Keep in mind that because contracts do not expire, we are bound to all the terms and conditions until the contract is fulfilled. Having an open contract is a liability, so it is important to include language in your contracts that will let you close them eventually, even if performance has not been completed.


Are electronic signatures valid?


Yes, electronic signatures are valid and legally enforceable for almost all contracts. Many states accept them even for real estate contracts, and accept electronic notaries, as well.


In the broadest terms, an electronic signature is any digital signature or mark intended as a signature. Some examples of e-signatures include signing an electronic screen, clicking an "I accept" box on a computer, using a digital copy of your signature on a document, emailing a signature and faxing a signature.


There are two federal acts (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act - ESIGN, and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act - UETA) that deal with the use, acceptance and enforceability of electronic signatures. In addition, every state has some kind of law modeled after UETA that allows for electronic signatures.


While an electronic signature is acceptable, it is important to remember that the enforceability is only as good as the ability to prove who signed. In today's world of electronic signatures, the issue for businesses is making sure they know with whom they are contracting.


I suggest that businesses relying on e-signatures have some set protocol to verify the identity of the signatory. This may include a copy of ID or even verification of some personal data such as Social Security Number, date of birth, address or phone number.


It is up to each funeral home, cemetery and crematory to decide what level of protection it will feel comfortable with when accepting an electronic signature.


Are verbal contracts legal?


Yes. Many people believe that a contract has to be in writing to be legal and enforceable, but verbal agreements are just as enforceable, but verbal agreements are just as enforceable, at least in theory. The problem with verbal contracts is that they are much, much, much harder to enforce.


And, to be clear, there are a few types of contracts that must be in writing. These include contracts for real estate and contracts for the sale of goods in an amount over $500.


But otherwise, any verbal agreement is a valid contract and enforceable.


Where verbal contracts really become an issue is when they conflict with a written one. As mentioned above, most courts will not consider any type of verbal agreements when a written contract exists. This is to avoid the classic he said/she said battle.


If a contract states that a provider will provide carnations for the funeral, that is what the court will enforce. If the funeral director and family have a conversation and come to a verbal agreement that actually roses will be provided, if a dispute arises later, the court will typically enforce what's written in the contract. This is why exact written language is so critical in all contracts.


Can I change a contract after I sign it?


Yes, but the change has to be in writing. As just explained, verbal changes are not enough to change a written contract. If the parties want to make a change, all parties have to make the change in writing on the contract and initial and date it.


You cannot verbally alter, amend or cancel a signed contract. Consider the following example from the death care profession:


Wilbert 4-2012 The cremation provider receives a call. The deceased's son (Son No. 1), who is named on the cremation authorization form as the person who will pick up the cremated remains, says he is unable to pick up the cremated remains, so he is going to have his brother pick them up. His brother (Son No. 2) signed the form authorizing the cremation, but was not named as being authorized to pick up the remains.


The cremation provider notes the change on the contract, even marking the date and time of the change requested over the phone. He writes on his copy of the contract that Son No. 1 verbally authorized the change.


An hour later Son No. 2 arrives and takes possession of the cremated remains. He signs a receipt and provides a copy of his identification as well.


The following day, the cremation provider receives a call from Son No. 1, who apologizes for the delay and says he will be over later that day to pick up the cremated remains of his father. The cremation provider reminds him that he authorized his brother to pick up the cremated remains yesterday. His brother already did so, so there's no need for Son No. 1 to stop by.


At this point, I'm sure you've guessed what happened here: the true details came out. That call saying "I can't come in, let my brother pick up the remains" did not come from Son No. 1. His brother, Son No. 2, made the call, lying to the cremation provider so that he would be allowed to pick up his father's remains.


And you know what comes next. Enter a lawyer and a lawsuit against the cremation provider as two brothers fight over their father's cremated remains. That was the fallout from not following the rule that written contracts cannot be changed verbally. The cremation provider lost the case because it had breached the contract, had failed to abide by the contract language agreed to in writing by all parties.


What it all means


Contracts are a part of everyday life. No one is surprised when asked to "sign here." But when signing a contract, both parties have the responsibility to make sure the contract represents what they want and is enforceable.


As a businessperson, you must take the necessary steps to make sure contracts are valid and, even more important, that the people using your contracts understand how a contract works.


The simple questions asked and answered in this article should be the minimum that anyone handling contracts understands. A valid contract can quickly become unenforceable if we do not handle the execution and follow-up properly. Take the time to cover the basics and your potential liability will always be reduced.


Article by Poul LeMasters sourced from ICCFA Magazine for March/April 2013 reproduced in its entirety with permission. Poul is an attorney and funeral director, licensed as a funeral director and embalmer in Ohio and West Virginia and admitted to practice law in Ohio and Kentucky. He is the ICCFA's special cremation legal counsel. ICCFA members in good standing may call him to discuss cremation-related legal issues for up to 20 minutes at no charge to the member. The association pays for this service via an exclusive retainer. Poul also provides to ICCFA members in good standing free GPL reviews to check for Funeral Rule compliance.

Assorted Useful Links


Washington State Funeral and Cemetery Board


WSFDA: Washington State Funeral Directors Association


ICCFA: International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association


CANA: Cremation Association of North America


NFDA: National Funeral Directors Association


CAO: Cemetery Association of Oregon


OFDA: Oregon Funeral Directors Association


MBNA: Monument Builders of North America


PNMBA: Pacific Northwest Monument Builders Association 



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