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Lean times in L.A. County leave no money for the dead

  • Story Highlights
  • L.A. County coroner's office reports 36% jump in cremations at taxpayer expense
  • Increasing numbers of relatives can't afford to pick up or bury the deceased
  • Demand so high that two private crematories contracted to handle work load
  • Advice from funeral industry spokeswoman: Be up-front about money issues
By Brendan Gage
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(CNN) -- Not even the dead can escape the recession's sting.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office reports it has cremated an increasing number of unclaimed bodies this year for relatives who cannot afford to pick up or bury their deceased loved ones.

The number of cremations that the coroner's office has carried out at taxpayer expense jumped from 525 in the last fiscal year to 712 this year -- a 36 percent increase, The Los Angeles Times said.

Demand has been so high, the coroner's office reportedly contracted with two private crematories to handle the work load.

Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association said it's a problem that has surfaced in a handful of communities and is not yet a widespread problem. But that's not to say that families are not struggling with how to honor their loved ones in economical fashion.

"Families are choosing less expensive caskets and urns," Koth said.

"They may be having reduced services, where instead of having a visitation or a wake one day and then having the funeral service the next day, they might just do everything in one day."

In Los Angeles County, for instance, it costs $200 dollars to claim a loved one's body from the coroner. And an average funeral, according to Koth, can cost around $7,300. She said it pays to be frank with a funeral home about expenses.

"Share those concerns with the funeral director, and do have some open and honest conversations about what the family might be able to afford in terms of a funeral," Koth said.

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