Families struggle to get loved ones' remains after deaths; how to avoid them for your loved ones

ByAnn Pistone WLS logo
Friday, April 26, 2024
Local women struggle to get loved ones' remains after sudden deaths
Losing a loved one is heartbreaking enough but what if you were also struggling to get your loved one's remains?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Losing a loved one is heartbreaking enough but what if you were also struggling to get your loved one's remains?

Here's what you should know to be prepared before you or a loved one passes away.

"It's just hard, it's hard," said Bessie Campbell.

Her 24 year-old niece Mia Hannah died suddenly in September 2023. Campbell and her daughter, who had been Mia's legal guardian while she was a minor, paid, in full, a funeral home for a service and cremation.

What Campbell and her daughter didn't know is that they weren't legally Hannah's next-of-kin.

The Higgins Family Funeral Home told the I-Team that Hannah's father provided proof that he was next-of-kin and so, following the law, the funeral home had no choice but to give him Mia Hannah's remains.

Campbell is heartbroken.

"I'd like my niece's ashes," she said.

Before tragedy strikes, there are steps you can take to avoid this, said Anthony Fleege with Southern Illinois University's Mortuary Science Program.

"Make sure the person that is ill or is dying puts their wishes out there, either in a pre-arranged funeral or in a will or in some sort of legal document," he advised.

The mourning process also took a difficult turn for Tiana Murphy of University Park, whose father Moise Alcendor passed away unexpectedly in August 2023.

It took two months for her to get her father's remains.

"It was painful, each day I'm feeling like there was something I should be doing," she said.

Provident Hospital, where Alcendor died, made numerous mistakes on her father's death certificate.

"On the first death certificate the cause of death is missing," said Murphy, who couldn't get her father's remains until the errors on the death certificate was corrected. "Just to know that my father was just sitting somewhere was heartbreaking for me."

Provident Hospital, part of Cook County Health, told the I-Team, "We sincerely apologize for the distress caused by this delay. We have reviewed the hospital's protocols for processing death certificates and identified several opportunities for improvement to ensure this situation does not happen again. This is not reflective of the caliber of service we expect to provide to our patients or their families."

"It's best, if you can ask the funeral home, 'Can I see the death certificate before it goes into the system?'" said Fleege. "If the death certificate is incorrect that might hold up the disposition and returning of the remains."

Experts say even if you don't have an official legal document or a pre-arranged funeral, it can be helpful if you write up your afterlife wishes. Sign it, date it and have two witnesses sign it. Or put it in an email.


Southern Illinois University's Mortuary Science and Funeral Service academic program

Illinois State Comptroller Mortuary Services Consumer Guide

Frequently Asked Questions