Funeral, cemetery & crematoriums
Updated June 1, 2020
As a regulator, we have responsibilities to all our stakeholders, which includes delivering on certain services. We also believe that it’s important to be especially thoughtful and caring during this time. Sometimes those two things can seem at odds with each other – managing our business and following the law with being compassionate towards the needs of our licensed businesses. We are trying to balance those things to the best of our ability during this difficult and changing time. We continue to ask for your patience and your trust while we navigate these waters.
As the situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we understand how important it is for your business to be able to continue operating in a time of social distancing or possible quarantine. The content on this page is intended to help you make informed decisions for you, your employees, your clients and your business.
Essential or critical service designation and emergency measures
The Provincial government has established a list of essential services to clarify which services should remain available in the context of the Province’s response to COVID-19. The list includes coroners and workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries, and workers supporting the appropriate handling, identification, storage, transportation and certification of human remains.
The Solicitor General has declared a state of provincial emergency. This allows the province to enact any provincial emergency measures needed to respond or lessen the impact of an emergency, including securing the critical supply chains and exercise extraordinary powers over the maintenance and coordination of emergency medical, welfare and other essential services. These powers supersede all other Acts during this time and should health and funeral sector capabilities be overwhelmed, may result in extraordinary measures in the form of legislation to provide for specialized handling, storage and/or burial of human remains, issuance of death certificates and burial permits.
In these circumstances, the Chief Coroner, together with the Provincial Health Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the Vital Statistics Agency, may direct changes to normal documentation and processing to facilitate a rapid burial where there is a reasonable presumptive cause of death and no identification issues. They can also authorize the use of mass graves and direct the establishment of community body collection locations.
We are closely tracking this situation and are engaged with government daily. We will continue to provide updates as we learn more.
Regulatory compliance and legal issues
Funeral providers must continue to follow all laws and regulations. It is advised to be aware of this especially with the potential for reduced staffing, and employee fatigue. Please contact us if there are issues needing clarification, and we will provide advice.
Upcoming preneed reporting deadline extensions
For those who have upcoming preneed reports to submit, we are extending the deadline by two months.
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of December, the new deadline is May 31
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of January, the new deadline is April 30
- For funeral providers and operators with a fiscal year-end of February, the new deadline is July 31
Eligible funeral service staff
We are announcing that eligible year one apprentices currently registered in the program are allowed to perform all duties of a licensed funeral director or embalmer as required. Mentors must ensure that these individuals are being directly supervised while conducting any arrangement or embalming activities.
We are available to reinstate any retired or inactive funeral director or embalmers who are available to work on an expedited basis. This includes granting temporary licensure for funeral directors and embalmers from other provinces under Labour Mobility.
If meeting with families, use a spacious area for the meeting; have guests keep a spare chair between them; use phone, email or video as alternatives to a physical meeting, and e-signature applications, such as DocuSign, to sign paperwork.
Remote contracts and authorizations
Some funeral providers are seeking clarity on the ability to initiate and complete funeral service arrangements remotely.
Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act (CIFSA) section 8 allows for funeral services (the possession and transfer of the remains) to be initiated by phone but requires written confirmation on the funeral contract before other arrangements may proceed. In this unusual time, we are clarifying that it is still vital for the family to understand the funeral contract and agree to its terms before other funeral services are provided. This process can occur electronically.
Funeral directors may make arrangements online or over the phone and send a copy of the funeral contract to the family for review either via fax or email or through some other electronic means. An electronic confirmation (again via fax or email or other means) from the CIFSA section 5 family member is enough to proceed with funeral services.
The CIFSA section 5 family member may also authorize disposition (burial or cremation) electronically.
Preneed and at need funeral contracts
We understand that it’s difficult to balance the needs of families to gather for services in the context of social distancing orders. The BC Government has information on enforcement of social distancing and health orders and guidance for faith-based organizations and managing social distancing.
We continue to recommend that you try not to delay disposition and avoid storing the deceased longer than needed. Instead, delay the celebration of life or other services but move forward with disposition.
When that happens, how to handle the preneed or at need contract and the associated cancellation rights can become complicated. Here are some scenarios to consider:
You have talked with the family about the various options and services in the preneed contract but cannot come to an agreement on what will be provided and when. The family wishes to cancel the preneed contract but may not fully understand the tax implications for the estate.
- The consumer has the right to cancel a contract at any time subject to 20% withholding, regardless of the tax implications.
- You are welcome to explain the tax implications related to trust or insurance pay-outs. However, you may want to look into any laws around giving tax advice.
- You should not place any undue pressure on consumers to restrict them from exercising their cancellation rights.
You are able to provide all the contracted services now; however, the family wants to delay all or part of them to a future point in time.
- This can be done if a predetermined date is agreed to by both parties and set out in an amendment to the preneed funeral services contract. The preneed contract is deemed to still be in the process of being executed.
- If you are ultimately unable to provide the services on the date(s) agreed, then the BPCPA s.39 applies and refunds must be provided without deduction.
- If the consumer changes their mind and chooses to cancel, then BPCPA s.36 applies and you must give a refund subject to the deduction of the proportionate amount, using rates described in the preneed or at need funeral services contract.
You are not able to provide all the services now, and the family wishes the money to be held for the remaining services at a future date.
- In this case, if there is no predetermined date for some of the future services, the preneed contract is deemed to continue.
- This means that you have provided part of the services and would be entitled to compensation for those services at the rates noted in the preneed services contract.
- Any other services that you have not provided would be deemed continued under the preneed contract and the remaining funds would be retained by the funeral provider for once those services are delivered later.
- There is no credit per se. The services provided must all be in respect of the existing preneed contract. If the family is engaging in negotiations for new services not related to the decedent, then a new at need contract is required.
- If you are ultimately unable to provide the services under the contract, then BPCPA s.39 applies and refunds must be given without deduction.
- If the consumer changes their mind and chooses to cancel, then BPCPA s.36 applies and you must give them a refund is given subject to deduction of the proportionate amount using rates described in the preneed or at need funeral services contract.
Changing funeral practices due to social distancing
The Province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency. All gatherings are now restricted to 50 people, and many businesses and organizations have been ordered to close including schools, bars, and restaurants except for takeout or delivery. These restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
We recommend that you discuss concerns and options with the families you serve. As the regulator of your sector, we support the BC Funeral Association in their recommendation that funeral providers limit families and services to fewer than 10 people wherever possible.
Remember, guests attending your funeral home should practice:
- Social distancing: put a 2-metre distance between others
- Hand hygiene: keep soap dispensers filled in all washrooms. Have hand sanitizer readily available at all entrance points
- Cough/sneeze etiquette: cover coughs and sneeze into your elbow. Have extra tissues readily available
- Post reminders of how to prevent being infected: wash or sanitize hands often, put a 2-metre distance between others, stay home if sick, cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently and meticulously: tabletops, mobile phones, keyboards, landlines, nametags, commonly touched surfaces such as light switches, countertops, chair arms, railings, doorknobs, and handles
We understand it may be difficult to balance the needs of families to gather for services in the context of social distancing orders. The BC Government also has information on enforcement of social distancing and health orders and guidance for faith-based organizations and managing social distancing.
We recommend that you try not to delay disposition and avoid storing the deceased longer than needed. Instead, delay the celebration of life or other services but move forward with disposition whenever possible.
Supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
We understand that all PPE is being directed to health care workers and there is some concern within the sector that not enough PPE will be available for funeral service professionals in a crisis. The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, whose responsibilities include the BC Coroners Service has raised the issue of PPEs for the bereavement sector with Emergency Management BC, which is coordinating the supply of essential goods, including PPE supply, through a supply chain working group. The Province is also working with the federal government to coordinate PPE supply for the province. In the meantime, we ask funeral professionals to be conservative with their current supplies of PPE and only use PPE when needed. The BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) has information about PPE that you may find helpful, including a framework document for emergency prioritization of PPE. This information helps identify when PPE is required and strategies for the conservation of PPE.
Registration of death
We have confirmed with Vital Statistics that all funeral providers can access online death registries anywhere in the province. This includes registration and printing death certificates.
This does not have to be done at funeral homes. Funeral providers should have several staff who can register the death as Vital Statistics agents. Vital Statistics deals directly with private deaths. Family members must obtain a certificate of death and can scan and email that document to Vital Statistics (it doesn’t need to be done in person). Vital Statistics cannot and will not register a death without the medical certificate of death. Coroners and physicians can complete the medical documents after the death and sign off remotely too (i.e. if a death occurs at a care home and was anticipated).
There is no reason not to prepare a COVID-19 decedent as long as you follow your routine precautions. Information from health sources to date have indicated that COVID-19 is spread by droplet and contact. It is not principally an airborne virus. Therefore, ensuring routine droplet barrier precautions, environmental hygiene, and overall sound infection prevention is the best way to keep you and your employees safe.
Remember, there are many infectious sources that can stay alive on a surface that could hurt you (such as hepatitis). You should always take precautions as if every person is a carrier of something and be diligent about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). You should be wearing N95 masks when embalming, otherwise, that type of mask isn’t required.
Refrigeration of human remains
Embalmed remains are not required to be placed in refrigeration and may be held in the preparation and embalming room. Remains must be stored in a respectful manner however we understand that storage capacity is stretched to the limit. If the deceased needs to be stored and refrigeration isn’t available, it may be necessary to add additional temporary refrigeration or embalm to preserve the remains prior to disposition. We also accept that more decedents may be in refrigeration than designated in which case you may, during this crisis, rotate remains in refrigeration, meaning that there would be the potential of decedents that have been in refrigeration taken out and be placed back in as the need arises. Remains out of refrigeration should be covered and may be stored on prep tables or stretchers outside of refrigeration but in a secure preparation and embalming room. Contact the Public Health Officer for your region if you are no longer able to store remains and require guidance on alternative options.
Control of disposition
Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act (CIFSA) section 8 requires authorization from the family to take possession of remains. In a pandemic emergency, contacting the correct person may prove more difficult than normal which could delay cremation or burial. Assuming you do take possession, it is highly unlikely that funeral services will proceed in a timely fashion. Funeral directors may, therefore, be required to make disposition arrangements over the phone (delaying bereavement rights and ceremonies) and store the remains until the burial or cremation can occur or is otherwise ordered (see below).
Note that section 8(3)(b) of the CIFSA provides that a Medical Health Officer may order a cemetery, mausoleum and crematorium to dispose of human remains under the Health Act. We are working with our government partners to determine how this may take effect and what process the industry should follow to bury or cremate remains on the order of the Public Health Officer.
Interments and cremation
We are aware that some funeral providers have been storing remains since the pandemic began to inter at a later date. Interments and burials must proceed now. All funeral providers, cemetery and crematorium operators should be preparing for and conducting interments as soon as possible to maximize their availability for burials or further cremations.
Timelines for cremation
A Medical Health Officer may order a change to normal procedures to allow cremation within 48 hours of death. We are working with our government partners to determine how this may take effect and what process the industry should follow to cremate remains on the order of the Public Health Officer.
It is possible that some families may choose to transport the bodies of family members. Families need to be aware that section 3 of the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Regulation provides restrictions on the movement of human remains and the persons authorized to do so.
Other than licensed funeral directors or their staff and transfer services, any other persons transferring remains must be acting under a permit issued by a director under the CIFSA.
Such persons must also transfer the remains in a manner that prevents the remains from causing a hazard to the health of any person and requires a rigid, closable container of sufficient strength and construction. Even if a family is transporting remains under such a permit, they should always still carry a completed burial permit with them. We are working with our government partners to determine how Vital Statistics is managing the issuance of death registrations and certificates, and burial permits in this uncertain time.
Am I or my staff at increased risk?
We are monitoring information from various health sources. There is no known evidence of post-mortem spread of the virus to date. There is no known risk associated with being in the same room with the body of someone who has died of COVID-19. That said, it is important to take the same precautions you would normally take in the practice of your profession.
Do I have to self-isolate if I prepare a body that has COVID-19?
Similar to a healthcare worker, there should be no reason to self-isolate if you have followed the precautions that you’ve been trained to do. However, the current guidance from public health officials is to self-isolate if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
We are consistently monitoring and reassessing the impact of this pandemic and we will let you know of any updates as quickly as we can. Please keep checking this page for updated information.