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Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Parliament is a quarterly journal focusing on the death care industry.

Summer 2011

Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

What’s In This Issue 3 Letter From the Publisher 4 3 Commonly Missing Policies and Procedures 7 Case Study | A Wrongful Burial Allowed 8 What’s Best? Written (Or Unwritten) Policies and Procedures

Summer 2011

Photo by Josep Ma. Rosell


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

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Letter from the Publisher

t’s official. I now pay my kids an allowance. In my mind, I am wondering what the cost of inflation will be on a $1/week allowance over the next 10 years. Despite this worry, it is interesting to see how quickly my kids have learned how the allowance process works. Of course, I believe my kids figured the process out much quicker than my wife and I did.

When we first started the allowance process we simply said if you are good then you get your allowance. Well being good is very subjective, so it was difficult to determine if allowance was earned. As a result, we set out tasks that each of our kids had to do: make the bed every morning, carry down their own laundry, and then some extra tasks that they didn’t have to do but if they did it was worth a little more. This worked pretty well, but as time went on it became routine to give the allowance based on the kids saying they did their tasks, but there was nothing showing they did. Enter the chart. The chart, actually my son’s idea, was made so that there was a physical list of the tasks in their room with a way to track when/if they were done. So, every morning that they make the bed, they have stickers to put on the correct date showing that task was completed. By week’s end, everyone can see that tasks were completed and allowance is given out. At my kid’s early age, my family has a written procedure that helps everyone. My kids have a way to track their tasks, both knowing what is expected Photo Page 2 by Josep Ma. Rosell flickr.com/photos/josepmarosell Photo Page 5 by Pedro Szekely Publisher: Poul Lemasters flickr.com/people/pedrosz Photo Page 6 by Brisbane Falling Art Direction & Design: Doth Brands flickr.com/photos/brisbanefalling Photo Page 9 by Hamed Saber Questions? info@lemastersconsulting.com flickr.com/hamed Subscriptions are free. Please visit Photo Page 10 by Kristin Bradley flickr.com/photos/krikit lemastersconsulting.com to sign up.

Volume 1 , Issue 4

Parliament is published quarterly.

Summer 2011

and proving what they have done. As parents, we have a way of sharing our expectations and making our kids accountable. And, overall, it makes the process enjoyable! You see, procedures are a part of everyone’s life. Humans are creatures of habit and we’re naturally inclined to create structure. We may not think of tasks in our personal life as Policies and Procedures, but they are. In the work world, it is much easier to identify Policies and Procedures. It is a common item that all businesses share—including funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories. Policies and Procedures are not only part of every business; they are the backbone of the business. Without Policies and Procedures, a business would have no clear direction of what they do or how they do it. The more a business details its Policies and Procedures the greater likelihood of good business success. And by success I am referring to increased productivity, better work environment, and reduced risk of liability—just to name a few. I hope this issue of Parliament, which focuses on Policies and Procedures, shows the importance of why we have them, how they are formalized, and some tips on a few that everyone should have. Best regards,

Poul Lemasters Publisher Photo Page 12 by Nicolas_Gent flickr.com/photos/21680590@N06 Photo Page 14 by Tambako The Jaguar flickr.com/people/tambako

© Copyright 2011 Lemasters Consulting and Poul Lemasters. All Rights Reserved.

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Lemasters Consulting Parliament

3 Commonly Missing Policies and Procedures

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t is not possible for this single issue of Parliament to cover all of the Policies and Procedures your business should have. Policies and Procedures are very business-specific and dependent on items like type of business, location, size, services offered—just to name a few. What we can do is list a few of the more common Policies and Procedures that are often either missing or sometimes just outdated. These are not meant to be complete Policies and Procedures for each topic, but rather—a guide to illustrate a few key points.

CEMETERY Exhumation/Disinterment This is probably included in almost all cemetery Policies and Procedures, but is normally lacking in its description. For example, while most cemeteries conduct disinterments, the funeral home is typically responsible for the permit process. This is important language for your cemetery so it knows when and how it may be involved in the process. A list of all documents should also be included in the disinterment procedure. The documents should include any burial permits or regulatory paperwork, any internal forms, any consent forms by the family or property owner, and any release or acknowledgments. Lastly, the procedure should contain a process for handling any items not transferred to the new gravesite. For example, if there is a vault in the grave and it is not moved, then what will be done with the now empty or possibly broken vault? This needs to be set forth in the procedures. Monument Damage It is amazing to see how many issues

and complaints are filed against cemeteries for damage to markers and monuments. This also includes the current trend of monument theft, where individuals are stealing bronze vases in order to sell for recycling. Markers and memorials are typically personal property and therefore covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy. But, make sure your Policies and Procedures identify this specifically and the practice of getting this information to the families you serve. While this may fall more under the Rules and Regulations of the cemetery, it is important to identify how your business handles monument damage. In regards to your Rules and Regulations some sample language may be: All memorials, including family mausoleums, monuments, markers or vases, are the property of the individual owner. Therefore, any damage to memorials due to weather; acts of God; vandalism; malicious mischief; or theft, are the owner’s responsibility. Please contact your local insurance agency to include your property on your homeowner’s policy. Graveside Services It is common for a cemetery to have the committal at a chapel or a false setting. However, families still request graveside services and it is important to identify your procedures for a standard graveside service. First, define a graveside service. Is this a false setting, or is the family allowed to be at the gravesite? Second, what is the required set-up for the service? Is a tent allowed or mandatory? Are chairs allowed or mandatory? Is the fill dirt present or

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Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Photo by Pedro Szekely Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Summer 2011

Photo by Brisbane Falling


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Case Study | A Wrongful Burial Allowed

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here is no greater proof than when a court of law says so. At least for a lawyer, it’s always nice to see the law support what you say. In the following case, a cemetery avoided, among other things, a wrongful burial in part due to its Policies and Procedures. In 1970, Juan’s wife died and was buried in her designated plot. Eisert v. Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 207 P.3d 1156. Juan soon remarried Sofie and life went on. Sometime in 1996, during their marriage, Juan and Sofie went to the cemetery to reserve their own plots. Juan reserved a plot next to his first wife, and Sofie reserved a plot next to Juan. In 2002, after thirty years of marriage, Juan died. Sofie met with the cemetery and arranged to have Juan buried in his reserved place, right next to his first wife. During the preparation of Juan’s grave, the cemetery discovered that Sofie’s grave contained unidentified human remains. (The facts of the case establish that the cemetery was in existence prior to the Civil War and sometimes the cemetery did locate unrecorded human remains in reserved sites). The cemetery alerted Sofie of the situation and gave her two options. The first option was to select two new spaces where Juan and she could be buried beside one another. The second option was to make Juan’s grave a double-depth grave, allowing Juan to still be buried next to his first wife, and also allowing Sofie to be buried with Juan in the same grave at a later time. Sofie chose the latter, and Juan was buried in a double-depth grave.

Two years later, Sofie died. Her children took care of her funeral arrangements and had Sofie buried in the double-depth plot occupied by Juan. Juan’s children, from his first marriage, were not involved and unaware of Sofie’s burial. Shortly thereafter, Ida Eisert visited her father Juan’s gravesite and noticed that the ground was disturbed. Upon inquiring, Ida discovered that her stepmother was buried in the same grave as her father and not in a separate grave as originally contracted. Ida sued the cemetery for breach of contract, mental anguish, specific performance to disinter Sofie, and punitive damages against the cemetery to prohibit this type of practice. Prior to the case going to Court, the cemetery moved for summary judgment. (Summary Judgment is a legal process where the defendant states that, as a matter of law, they did nothing wrong and the case should be dismissed in its favor. The law must be clear on the defendant’s side and there can be no question as to the facts. Typically, Summary Judgment is difficult to obtain). The cemetery argued that it did not breach its contract with Juan or Sofie because despite the fact that Juan and Sofie reserved different plots, the cemetery had a right under the contract to modify the burial contract. The cemetery could not show a new contract showing that Sofie had agreed to a double-depth grave. The file actually showed that Juan and Sofie had reserved separate plots. However, the Cemetery was able to establish that its burial contracts are allowed to be modified in the event

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Lemasters Consulting Parliament

What’s Best? Written (Or Unwritten) Policies & Procedures

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t’s difficult to talk about Policies and Procedures without tackling the issue of whether to write them down or not. There are two schools of thought when it comes to Policies and Procedures: Write them down, so you have a reference point or Write nothing down, so you don’t have something that can prove your misdoings. These two thoughts are opposite extremes and both have some valid considerations. Be clear that I am a proponent of writing things down, but let’s contemplate both sides, starting with not writing it down. It does have a sense of simplicity (some may argue laziness). Not putting procedures in writing is a simple concept practiced by a large number of businesses. Understand that the reason most businesses do not put procedures into place is purely by choice and not based on some grand plan. But, there is some logic to this concept. First, there is the idea of not being able to prove a violation of a procedure if it’s not in writing. After all, if there is nothing in the book that says I can’t take a 30 minute coffee break, then how can you tell me I am doing anything wrong? The problem with this argument is that Policies and Procedures (even if only verbal) are still binding. If everyone knows that you only get a 15 minute break, then that policy stands. It may be harder to prove if it’s not in writing, but it still stands. There is also an argument of adaptation. Every business changes, and a business needs to adapt quickly in some situations. With written

procedures a business can be limited as to what or how to proceed in some situations. Keep in mind, this rational is correct but the problem is not written procedures, it is poorly written procedures that limit the business. The last, and probably the most convincing argument for not writing Policies and Procedures is based upon improper procedures. There is a belief that it is better to have nothing in writing than have something in writing that your business does not do. To this argument I agree. A business with poor, or improper Policies and Procedures is potentially at a greater risk than a business with nothing written at all. For example, if a cremation provider has a policy/ procedure to visually identify the deceased prior to cremation but does not practice that procedure all the time—the business is leaving itself open to increased liability. So if a business faces potential increased liability for incorrectly written Policies and Procedures, what is the benefit of writing them? To name just a few reasons—consistency, accountability and transparency. One of the biggest areas of potential liability is inconsistent practices. In the example above, identification of a deceased, it is critical to not only identify the procedure, but also to establish a consistent practice. Someone stating “We do it this way all the time.” is good, but showing that your Policy and Procedure manual has a specific procedure on how to identify a deceased is much stronger. In addition, your staff becomes

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Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Photo by Hamed Saber Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Summer 2011

Photo by Kristin Bradley


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Continued...Missing Policies and Procedures brought after the dismissal? Third, the personnel requirements must be identified. Who from the cemetery must be there at the graveside service? When can that person leave? Finally, you need to identify the closing process. When does it start? Can the family stay for the lowering? The closing?

FUNERAL HOME Social Media This policy could fit any business, and it is listed here because it is becoming an issue for funeral homes. This is a bit of a new issue and therefore many businesses have not addressed it as of yet. Additionally, there are various stories and cases revolving around this issue with mixed results. However, ignoring this can cause more harm than good. Despite the ability to fully control what employees do on their own free time is no reason to omit internal policies on social media. Saying that, this blurb cannot do this policy justice. In fact in today’s world, social media deserves its own issue of Parliament (Note to self for future Journal). There are some basic things to consider in a social media policy which include protecting confidential information, providing guidelines of what can be written instead of focusing on what can not be written, defining what social media is for your business, and setting disciplinary recourse for violations. Returning Cremains It is often the most overlooked procedure for a funeral home. Many times, a funeral home is so anxious to conclude the cremation process that it simply hands over the cremated

remains with no real procedure in place. It is important to have a written Policy and Procedure that defines the steps to take when returning cremated remains. This would include initial verification that the urn/temporary container holds the correct cremated remains. It would also include verification from the person receiving the cremated remains that they are listed on the cremation authorization form as an individual who can receive the cremated remains and they have identification to prove who they are. Then, there should be a form that is used to document the person’s identification (i.e. a copy of a driver’s license), the date and time of receiving the cremated remains, and a signature showing their acceptance. Infant/Child Services May funeral homes have unwritten policies when it comes to handling a deceased child. This is a great service, sometimes referred to as Compassion Discount Service, to the community and families served, but it should be written. It should be clear what qualifies a family for your compassion discount and also what is included with the service. Identify pricing structure for services and merchandise and any other items that may or may not be included. The FTC allows a funeral home to discount its services in such cases, but as a protection to the business you should clearly identify the specifics of any services you offer.

CREMATORY ID Verification The days of relying on the funeral home or cremation provider for the sole identification of the deceased are gone. Crematories now are stepping

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Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Continued...Written or Unwritten accountable for their actions. Continuing with this example, your staff now has a written guide as to the identification process. For the business it has an objective standard to use for training, and for determining who is doing their job correctly. If there is an issue, the written procedure is the baseline to compare someone’s activity. Lastly, written Policies and Procedures provide a level of transparency. In today’s business world it is critical that everything have a certain level of transparency. Just one example of this can be seen in the insurance industry for funeral businesses. More and more insurance companies are demanding full written Policies and Procedures for the businesses they insure. Why? Because the insurance company needs a clear view of not only the business itself, but also of the issues the business deals with and the solutions to these issues. Insurance companies no longer insure a funeral business based on the owner saying, “I handle funerals, and burials, and cremations.”

Insurance companies need to know the inner workings of the business so it can properly rate the risk. I leave you with this common scenario as a final argument in support of written Policies and Procedures. A lawyer calls you and states they are representing the Smith family over your handling of their deceased mother. You notify your attorney and discuss what may or may not have occurred. The attorney for the Smith family talks with your attorney and asks for one thing—a copy of your Policies and Procedures. If you have none, what picture is painted about your business? If you have bad ones, where do you think you stand? But, if you have solid Policies and Procedures and you can show you followed them, how quickly can this be resolved? Potential liability always surrounds your business and there is nothing anyone can do to fully limit liability. However, there are steps a business can take to reduce its liability, and properly written Policies and Procedures are one of those steps.

Continued...Case Study that a burial plot is unavailable due to the presence of another body. How did the cemetery show this? The cemetery could show that its Policies and Procedures were referenced in its burial contracts and therefore subject to written Policies and Procedures. The Court ultimately granted Summary Judgment on all claims finding in favor of the cemetery. While the Policies and Procedures were not the smoking gun that won the case, they did lend a

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hand in supporting its actions. Overall, this case is a pleasant reminder that good written Policies and Procedures can not only help solve your problems, they can also help defend your actions.


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Photo by Nicolas_Gent Summer 2011


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Summer 2011

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar


Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Continued...Missing Policies and Procedures up to do some type of identification of the deceased prior to cremation. This Policy and Procedure should be detailed and communicate your process. It may include verification of the paperwork with the name as it appears on the cremation container. Keep in mind that this procedure alone is minimal at best. The procedure should also include a visual identification of the deceased to confirm if the size, sex, race of the deceased matches the cremation authorization form. Additionally, the crematory may require the cremation provider to place an ID on the deceased prior to placing the deceased into the cremation container. Then, as part of the crematory’s procedure, it will verify the ID on the deceased. There are some states that do not allow a crematory operator to open a container, however the crematory can require the funeral director to open the container upon delivery. If this is your policy, it needs to be noted in your Policies and Procedures. Witnessing More and more families are choosing to witness the cremation process. Your Policies and Procedures should identify what the witnessing procedure entails. There should be clear guidelines on when the family can arrive, where the family can view, and how many are able to attend. The procedures should

Contacting Lemasters Consulting To keep track of industry events, conventions and seminars we’ll be attending please visit us online! Facebook: facebook.com/LemastersConsulting/ Website: www.LemastersConsulting.com Summer 2011

also address common scenarios that occur during witnessing such as the family pushing the casket into the retort, the family pressing the button to start, and the family wanting the door left open. Your procedures should clearly identify how the operator should handle each scenario. This policy should also include a form which should be signed by anyone who witnesses a cremation. Recycling As our society becomes more and more green, recycling is becoming a part of the cremation process. A policy of recycling should include why recycling is chosen, where recycling takes place and how the process occurs. The process should also include documentation of when recycling is sent out and documentation as to where the funds go. For example, most recycling companies donate money to a charity. The crematory should have a procedure in place so it can document that the money goes to a charity and they retain nothing. Overall, there are hundreds of Policies and Procedures that are critical to each business. This list covers a few and is meant to get a business looking at what it has in place now. Consider this a nudge to pull the procedures off the shelf and see what is good, what is bad, and what is just plain missing.

Lemasters Consulting Poul Lemasters 513.407.8114 parliament@lemastersconsulting.com

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Lemasters Consulting Parliament

Summer 2011 Summer 2011


Parliament | Issue 4, Volume 1