AP NEWS

County will recoup some unpaid burial costs through estates

May 12, 2019

Death is the high cost of living – but under the right circumstances, Arizona can charge residents for that, too.

When Mohave County residents haven’t saved money in anticipation of funeral or disposition expenses, or their families can’t be located, county taxpayers have long paid the cost themselves – a cost that has become more difficult to recoup. This week, however, Gov. Ducey signed legislation that would allow counties to recoup a portion of that cost through liens against the estates of the deceased, which take priority over beneficiary deeds.

According to Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, county taxpayers paid almost $34,000 for such expenses in 2018. Less than $10,000 was recovered through a program funded by the state of Arizona.

“We keep seeing the amount we recoup decreasing and the total we pay going up,” Johnson said in a news release Thursday. “Some have started to view this program as the ‘abandoned’ burial program. The word has gotten out that if you don’t pay for your loved one’s burial and disposition that the county will do it. This program was put into place for those who truly need it. In recent years, many have used the wording in the state statute to abuse the program.”

Prior to the new law, known as SB 1084, the counties were allowed only to recover costs of funeral or disposition services against the deceased’s estate, without accounting for other state statutes that allow property to pass through tenancy with the right of survivorship, beneficiary deeds or other designations. The new law will give priority to counties in recouping those costs through the estate of the deceased.

Mohave County Supervisors approached state senator Sonny Borrelli and Havasu legislators to address the issue last year, and Johnson has worked with the Arizona County Supervisors Association to draft this week’s legislation.

“Mohave County supervisors said they’ve been having a problem,” Borrelli said. “People die, their families inherit their property, and then they don’t pay the deceased’s bills. They wanted to fix it, it needed to be addressed and I responded … I wanted to make sure the counter wasn’t stuck paying these expenses with taxpayer money.”

Johnson thanked Borrelli, as well as state representatives Regina Cobb and Leo Biasiucci, for their role in supporting the new legislation.

“Counties will finally be able to recoup the costs and taxpayers will no longer have to subsidize this state-mandated program,” Johnson said.