Funeral, cemetery & crematoriums
Updated May 24, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in various ways. 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.
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.
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.
Funerals and memorial services during the pandemic
We recommend that you discuss concerns and options with the families you serve. Staff and guests attending your funeral home should follow the guidance from the BCCDC.
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 guidance for faith-based organizations and managing social distancing.
Remember that for services at a place of interment or crematorium, there may be an overlap between the continuation of funeral services and services related to interment or cremation. Upon the arrival at a place of interment or crematorium the operator becomes responsible for certain aspects of the care and handling of the casketed human remains as well.
Staff associated with the funeral home, place of interment, and crematorium must ensure continuity of care for the human remains until interment or cremation is complete.
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.
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.
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.