By Jodie Buller
During my years as a cemetery manager, I’ve worked with folks who’ve been comfortable relying on a funeral director to file the death certificate and obtain their burial/transit permit, and others who wanted to handle this paperwork themselves, as is their right under Washington law. I had to tell these DIY families that Washington’s shift to exclusive reliance on an electronic death registration system (EDRS) meant that they would have to hire a funeral director.
Seeing the traumatic and expensive barriers this created for Zaakera Stratman after her daughter Mikaela’s death increased my motivation to pursue a solution. With this website already in development, we formed a two-pronged plan. The first was to invite funeral directors friendly to home funerals to commit to offering reasonably priced “a la carte” assistance solely to facilitate the Death Certificate and/or Burial/Transit Permit (unless other services are desired), and to train their staff accordingly. (See Completing the Death Certificate> Hiring Assistance for Filing in How to Complete Paperwork.)
More importantly, our website development team initiated outreach to the Washington Department of Health to highlight the discrepancy between Washingtonian’s rights under the law and the current practice of restricting filing to professionals with EDRS access. We were fortunate to have former National Home Funeral Alliance President Lee Webster and Funeral Consumers Alliance Executive Director Josh Slocum willing to take the lead. They brought their years of advocacy experience to bear, identifying the key personnel to engage and the legal citations that affirmed this right. With that information, in mid-February 2021 we generated a flurry of letters from affected families, along with community advocates and organizations.
Within days we had a response from the Department of Health (DOH). Donna Feddern, Vital Records Manager for the DOH Center for Health Statistics confirmed, “There is a defined process for registering a death when there is no funeral home involved and it is still a paper process.” By the end of February, DOH had issued an official one-page publication titled Families Acting as Funeral Directors.
There is now clear and accessible documentation of the legal authority for those who chose not to hire a funeral director to handle the paperwork. Ms. Feddern has assured us that both this publication and paper death certificates have been distributed to county clerks who are responsible for facilitating this process on the local level. (It’s still a good idea to print it out and bring it with you to your county clerk. See How to Complete Paperwork for more tips.)
As a member of the team developing this website and someone who supports a lot of folks who prefer to do-it-themselves when it comes to death-care, I am grateful to DOH for this clarification, to Lee and Josh for initiating the advocacy push, and to all the community advocates who made their voices heard.
For more background, read Karen’s Story for an example of family-filed paperwork in Oregon.
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