Is failing to cremate a crime?

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?”


It can be hard to imagine anything worse than having a loved one pass away. The death of a child, a parent or a spouse can be crippling. It is not only emotionally draining, but can be financially taxing as well. You are forced to cope not only with great loss, but are then busy dealing with administrative issues and must also  figure out how to pay the often pricey bills associated with burial or cremation. For those in already tight financial circumstances, this can feel impossible.


Casket-Charlotte-Criminal-Lawyer-Mooresville-DWI-Attorney-300x200Now imagine on top of all those stressors you add one more: prison. That is what is currently facing a woman in metro Atlanta who says she is not able to pay for the funeral expenses of her recently deceased husband. The woman says that her husband died a few weeks ago. At the time, his body was taken to a local funeral home where she had a difficult conversation concerning money. The woman noted that she did not have the money to pay up front for cremation and would need to work out some kind of payment plan with the company.


The funeral home says that there must have been some kind of miscommunication. The home, as is standard in the industry, requires payment before engaging in any funeral activity. That means the woman must pay the bill before they will cremate her husband. The bill came to $981 dollars, beyond the reach of the woman, but enough that the funeral home has said they are willing to press criminal charges. In a letter, the funeral home explained that her failure to pay for the cremation amounts to abandonment of a body as she’s left her husband sit at their facility for the last several weeks. The funeral home said that if the woman does not pay the bill in full by the end of the week, they will be forced to pursue all legal options, including pressing charges.


In Georgia, the law says that abandonment of a body is a felony crime. If a person is found guilty, it can carry with it a minimum prison term of one year, with a maximum of three years behind bars. The law specifically says, “Any person who throws away or abandons any dead human body or portion of such dead body shall commit the offense of abandonment of a dead body.” At least according to the funeral home’s interpretation of the law, this means that the woman will have been deemed to have thrown away the body by failing to pay for the cremation service, not something that is clearly supported by the strict interpretation of the law.


So does this mean that being poor and having a loved one die is all but certain to lead to criminal charges in Georgia? Thankfully no. The good news is that Georgia law provides for circumstances where there is not enough money to pay for funeral services for a loved one. Georgia’s statutes say that the local county where a person dies can pay for the funeral services of a person provided that two things are true. First, that the family and immediate relatives of the deceased are indigent. Second, that the person who passed away was a pauper and his or her estate lacked resources to pay for a funeral. In these cases, family members can apply to the county for burial assistance.


The law in Georgia, and other states, is more commonly used in circumstances where funeral home directors or other employees abandon bodies or fail to cremate remains properly. There have been numerous cases over the years where funeral home workers were charged with failures to do as they promised, including handing over empty urns or remains belonging to other people. In these cases, abandonment of a body is usually one of several crimes contemplated by prosecutors.


If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys stand at the ready to defend you against state or federal charges. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828   or find additional resources here.






The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.





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