'That's just not right': Sparta funeral home holds remains until families pay their debt

News-DemocratAugust 24, 2013 

AP GRAPHIC

— Motorcycles and four-wheeled vehicles took off from the Veterans of Foreign Wars post Saturday on a poker run to raise money for an unusual cause -- to pay an outstanding funeral bill so that a man's cremated remains can be turned over to his family.

The funds will be used to pay the McDaniel and Lee Family Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Sparta. Nathan Lee, an owner of the funeral home, said that when the outstanding debt plus interest are paid, the remains of 45-year-old Shane Inselmann will be given to his family.

Inselmann died Nov. 9 of an overdose of the prescription pain reliever hydrocodone, said a family member.

Terry Plummer, president and acting executive director of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, said, "It is against the ethics of our organization to hang on to any human remains for any reason." While Plummer said the Sparta funeral home is not a member of the association, he intends to provide a report about the situation to the group's board of directors and Ethical Practices Committee.

The Sparta funeral also is holding the cremation remains, also known as "cremains," of Deborah Hubert, 45, as security against an unpaid debt, said Lee.

"It was per written agreement with the family," Lee said, that until a bill is paid in full, the tiny bone fragments, often erroneously called ashes, which result from the cremation process, will be kept in urns at the funeral home.

Lee declined to state how much was owed or how much interest was being charged.

Told that Plummer viewed this practice as unethical, Lee said, "I don't know what they do at other funeral homes."

Dale Lehr of Laveen, Ariz., said Saturday that he was shocked to learn that the cremated remains of his daughter Deborah Hubert, who died April 23, were being kept at the funeral home because of an unpaid debt.

"I left $1,500 in cash on the day of the funeral so it would be paid," said Lehr who said he traveled from Arizona to attend his daughter's funeral in Tilden at a satellite funeral home operated by the McDaniel and Lee Family operation.

"I think that's just not right. They shouldn't do that; hold her remains like that," he said. Lehr, who is divorced from Hubert's mother, said he left the cash with a family member who lives in Tilden and presumed that she had paid the cremation funeral service costs.

Members of the Inselmann family declined to be interviewed except to say that his mother was extremely distraught over not having her son's remains. They said she also was upset that the Belleville News-Democrat was publishing doing a story about her son, even though an ad about the poker run fundraiser had appeared in a local weekly newspaper.

A poker run fundraiser involves paying a fee to enter then traveling to several locations before returning to the starting point to randomly draw a poker hand from a deck. The winning hand wins a prize.

Inselmann's sister Melissa Martin said that money to pay for cremation and funeral services was raised at the time of death and turned over to a person who had been close to her brother, who still did not pay the debt.

Plummer, the head of the funeral director's association, said that even with a written agreement, human remains cannot be withheld for non-payment.

"There is this Walmart mentality among some funeral directors that you pay before you leave the store," he said.

Plummer said that funeral directors sometimes go unpaid for services but that the proper way to seek reimbursement is not to hold remains from grieving family members but to file a claim in small claims court or ask a judge for a legal order to attach the debt to a property deed. This would stop the property from being transferred to another owner if the debt remained unpaid.

Plummer said that recently a family from Wisconsin, who he did not identify, failed to pay $2,400 owed to his funeral home. But he said he could not find that they owed real property and has not been able to locate their whereabouts.

"I don't think they intend to pay me," he said.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625.

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