Cutting through funeral home red tape

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PHOENIX - A Valley woman says a funeral home was holding her sister's body hostage, months after her death and turned the family's time of mourning, into a nightmare.

“It's not right, people shouldn't have to go through this when you lose a loved one,” Cokey Robinson said. “You wanna put them at rest, you want everything to be nice, taken care of.”

It's a situation that's tough for Robinson to talk about.

Not only is she mourning the loss of her sister Sylvia, three months after her death, final arrangements for her body are still being worked out.

“It's just uncalled for. It just seems to me like being her sister I should've been able to step up and take care of it if Susan Kay didn't have the guts to,” she said.

Susan is the daughter of the deceased, and is legally considered the next of kin.

She's also the only person who can sign for her mother's cremation, but because Susan had fallen out of the picture.

“Couldn't get a hold of Suzy, don't know where Suzy is,” she said.

Plans for cremation at Paradise Chapel Funeral Home came to a standstill and when Robinson found out the cost, she called 3 On Your Side.

“We're charging you $2,000 plus another $200 a day for refrigeration,” she said.

According to state law, funeral homes must wait 15 days after trying to reach the next of kin before it can move to another relative to sign paperwork.

But Rudy Thomas, director of the Arizona Funeral Board, says even with the law, funeral homes could still be sued for unlawful cremation and is the reason why funeral homes have to make sure their documentation is in order, or risk the possibility of a lawsuit.

“They're being more stringent than the law, we can't say that they're violating the law, they're just being more stringent,” Thomas said.

After 3 On Your Side got involved, Paradise Chapel agreed to drop the fees, which it says was $500.

Paradise also moved Sylvia's body to the Maricopa County Fiduciary, where Cokey is expected to take over arrangements within the next few weeks.

“It's a relief, it's a big relief, but it’s just a shame that you have to go through so much aggravation,” she said.

Cokey says Paradise Chapel never told her about the 15-day process, but aside from that, feels relieved this whole thing could soon be behind her, and that her sister will finally be able to rest in peace.

“And anybody else that's in this you better get on your high horse and call Channel 3 and get them on your side, I appreciate what ya'll have done for us, I really do,” she said.

The Arizona Funeral Board says planning for death and putting your final wishes in writing is the one way to avoid this kind of confusion.