With Large Senior Population, Florida Accused Of Levying Death Tax

Magnifying Glass and TaxFlorida has long been a popular retirement destination for seniors all over the country, yet now the Sunshine State has been accused of benefiting from the deaths of its senior residents.

Each year, more Americans choose cremation over traditional casket funerals than ever before, and cremations are particularly popular in Florida. The Cremation Association of North America reports that last year 47% of dying Americans and their loved ones chose cremation, up from just 25% at the turn of the millennium.

But by 2006, the number of Floridians choosing cremation over burial had already passed 50%, and some Florida counties are being accused of padding their budgets with “cremation review fees.” Back before the service became widespread, many counties would charge a small $20 fee for cremations. Now, those fees have tripled to $63 or more and produce $4 million in annual revenues for 48 different county governments in Florida.

“In Florida, it seems some county governments have decided that the increased fees are needed to deal with the review of death records and correcting errors,” says Ira Woods, CEO of OneWorld Memorials. “The question I don’t see being asked is whether the same fee increase applies to conventional burials. Are cremations being unfairly targeted for a growing revenue stream, or is it on parity with county burial fees?”

State Representative Ken Roberson is just one critic of the cremation review fees, but one with a unique perspective. Not only is Rep. Roberson a state politician, but he’s also been a funeral home director for almost 50 years.

“It really amounts to a death tax,” said state Rep. Ken Roberson. “Floridians pay taxes and fees all their life; they or their families should not have to pay a fee when they prefer to be cremated.”

The transition towards cremation has led to a surge in businesses providing cremation urns and keepsakes for ashes and also forced many funeral directors to change with the times. Many families choose cremation because it costs much less than a traditional burial, which can cost more than $7,000. Even so, Florida is an outlier in the South, which has the lowest cremation rates in the country.

That’s slowly starting to change as the practice grows in popularity elsewhere. In Memphis, TN, one third-generation funeral home director (and another former congressman) is building a large indoor columbarium, with alcoves containing cameras that would allow families to view an urn virtually any time they wish.

“Where we are is where the industry is going,” Harold Ford told The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. “Half of all Americans now are being cremated and there’s been no place in America to memorialize the ashes of your loved ones for generations to come.”