After dispute over cremation payment, funeral home covers Cobb widow

After a Cobb County woman told reporters that she was worried about going to jail because she can’t afford the cremation of her husband, a funeral home covered the cost.

Betty Starnes said she thought she made it clear that she couldn’t pay up front when she asked Southern Cremations & Funerals at Cheatham Hill to take her husband’s body.

But the funeral home said that’s not how they operate and they thought she knew that.

Since the story was reported first by Channel 2 Action News and then The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Southern Cremations offered to perform their services for free. But Starnes said she would use SouthCare Cremation and Funeral Society after it offered to take her husband's body and perform the cremation for free, the television station reports.

“Maybe someone will find it in their heart to help,” Starnes had said.

Starnes said she can’t afford to pay the $981 bill for the service of her husband, who died on Oct. 6, and said the owner of the funeral home had threatened to press charges for abandonment of a body if she hadn’t been able to pay by Friday.

Abandonment of a body is a felony charge under Georgia law that, if found guilty of, carries a minimum imprisonment term of at least one year but not more than three years.

“I went to pieces. I said I’m not going to jail and I’m not a crook,” she told the station.

Starnes told Channel 2 that she was confused when she signed a contract and would be willing to set up a payment plan, but the funeral home’s owner told WSB-TV over the phone that he wants the payment in full before cremation, which he said is the industry standard.

Before offering to cover the bill, the funeral home of 38 years sent a statement to the station:

"Southern Cremations & Funerals at Cheatham Hill received a call on October 6 at 2:13pm from Mrs. Betty Starnes requesting that we take her deceased husband, Mr. Kenneth Starnes into our care. We brought him into our care later that day. Mrs. Starnes visited our funeral home on October 7 and was apprised of all the costs associated with the services she requested, and signed a contract for those services at that time. As is reasonable and customary in our industry, Mrs. Starnes understood that payment would be required prior to cremation. She indicated that payment would be rendered by October 9. 

We have not received payment for any of our services and have been actively working with the family for several days to address this unfortunate situation. Mrs. Starnes has been notified of all her options, including alternative resources that she could contact if she needed assistance in paying for the services selected. We are working diligently to resolve this situation. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Starnes has chosen to go directly to the media versus contacting the resources she was given, including our firm transferring her husband to another provider."

Starnes had said she tried those resources mentioned by the funeral home to no avail.

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