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GUEST OPINION: A mountain of rules for home burial

At her request, Carrie Hamburg was buried on rural land she and her husband of 40 years owned and loved (“Mendocino County supervisor's lawsuit challenges state on home burials,” Wednesday). In the old days, this request could be met with a simple ceremony and a shovel. With today's legalities, one can literally be buried in a mountain of red tape.

Not long ago, the family of a prominent member of our community asked for help in fulfilling his request that he be buried on his land. We quickly put together a team of several local lawyers, bankers, county officials, family and friends and embarked on a task that soon became so complicated as to be surreal.

After reading many provisions of the Health and Welfare and Business and Professions codes, I found my way to the state Department of Consumer Affairs in Sacramento. Located in a former basketball arena, now remodeled as a giant office building, here is a monument to enterprise and regulation. Corridors are lined with the offices of various regulatory bureaus. There's one for barbers and cosmetology, one for acupuncture, one for court reporters, one for guide dogs, one for hearing aids, one for athletics, and the list goes on. And there's one for burials.

The woman I worked with from the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau couldn't have been more helpful. She came over years ago from the Bureau of Nursing and admitted she, too, had had a steep learning curve. She warned that even Michael Jackson (who wanted to be buried at his Neverland ranch) didn't make it in time, and the Annenbergs took more than six months to arrange for Walter's final resting place (he, the friend of presidents). Nevertheless, she forwarded a checklist of some two dozen requirements necessary to achieve a certificate of authority.

It turns out that the requirements to bury just one person on his or her own land are very much the same as creating a public cemetery where you might inter hundreds. These include the establishment of a cemetery corporation and an endowment fund. Officers are fingerprinted and subject to FBI clearance. The parcel must be properly zoned, mapped and a deed dedicating it for cemetery purposes recorded. A licensed cemetery manager who doesn't work for any other cemetery must be located and hired (if a friend or family member wants to assume this role, a 100-question test is given once one's fingerprints are cleared. Unfortunately, there is no manual such as you would have for a driver's test, so answers are derived from common sense and a careful reading of the many relevant sections of the Health and Welfare code covering everything from urns to body parts).

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