Cemeteries Death + the Economy Death + the Law

Bring Out Your Dead Checkbook

FTC Proposes New Guidelines for Collecting Debt from Dead People
Ylan Q. Mui, The Washington Post (November 22, 2010)
The Federal Trade Commission is seeking to revise the protocol surrounding two of life’s touchiest subjects: debt and death.


Are Cemeteries the New Safe Investment?
Patrick Collinson, The Guardian (October 16, 2010)
With a shortage of space in cemeteries, private operators claim there are healthy returns to be had by buying burial plots

Here are a couple different angles on the economics of modern death. The top article examines the ever expanding world of debt collection from the dead. Postmortem debt typically falls on a spouse or family member, but a proposed policy revision will widen the pool to include other legal representatives.


The Death Reference Desk has been covering various aspects of the postmortem economy so these debt collection issues come as no surprise. An entirely different side of these economic concerns is the money that some investors are pouring into life-insurance policies. Meg wrote about that situation here. And everyone can read about the economic problems people face with death and dying under our insurance tag.

Some of the earliest death and the economy articles that I followed, involved unclaimed bodies filling morgues. These aren’t unidentified bodies, rather dead bodies where the next-of-kin know that the corpse is in the morgue but cannot afford to have the body sent to a funeral home.

And then there is the Cemetery-as-Investment side of these economic question. The Cemeteryscapes blog did an excellent post on this very topic. The Guardian article at the top also discusses how London cemeteries are becoming possible investment opportunities.

Buyer beware. That’s all I’m saying.

These cemetery discussions reminded me of an early Death Ref post that I did on a cemetery in foreclosure in California.

It was an exceptionally sad story then and remains so today.

Death + the Economy Death + the Law Death Ethics

Death and the Economy (redux): More and More Unclaimed Bodies in County Morgues

Death in the Recession: More Bodies Left Unburied
Alison Stateman, Time Magazine (August 07, 2009)

News stories about unclaimed dead bodies, accumulating in morgues across America, continue to pop up. Death Ref Librarian Kim found this one and I decided to post it. What makes this particular Time article slightly different than the other articles I have already posted on the unclaimed body phenomena is this: it discusses the problem from coast to coast. This is not an isolated, geographically contained problem.

When unprecedented numbers of unclaimed dead bodies stop filling county morgues, then I’ll believe that the American economic recession is in retreat.

Cemeteries Death + the Economy

Death and the Economy: California Cemetery in Foreclosure…

Final Resting Place, In Foreclosure
Theresa Vargas and Michael Williamson, Washington Post, (August 4, 2009)

Just when it seemed that news about the US economy and Death could not get any odder (and/or sadder), I came across the following blog post. Two writers employed by the Washington Post, Theresa Vargas and Michael Williamson, run a blog called Half a Tank: Along Recession Road and they are documenting how the recession is altering everyday life. Their posting on an Imperial Valley, California, cemetery in foreclosure is both predictable and astounding.

Cemeteries in foreclosure are not entirely new but it doesn’t happen all that frequently, either. Usually, cemeteries fall into disrepair because the owners stop the upkeep and/or the living relatives of the deceased have also died and no one comes to the cemetery.

Oddly, the last two days have seen similar cemetery stories in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. On Monday, August 3, the New York Times ran the following article: With Demise of Jewish Burial Societies, Resting Places Are in Turmoil.

I expect that more and more of these cases will pop up in the coming years. Family members die. Money comes and goes. Younger generations are no longer taken to the grave sites.

For what it is worth, I do not think that these stories are all that terrible. I like to imagine what future archaeologists will say when they uncover these abandoned burial grounds.

That, for me, is the future for forgotten cemeteries. We, the living, have no control over what stories our dead bodies will tell.