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Why Colorado's funeral homes could continue to make nightmarish headlines unless change comes

Mishandling of remains from funeral homes becoming more common in Colorado
Mishandling of remains from funeral homes becoming more common in Colorado 03:25

CBS Colorado just reported on a funeral home owner who's now wanted by police after they found dozens of cremains in a home, as well as a woman left in a hearse since 2022, but it's hardly the first time you've heard of this kind of crime in Colorado. Just last year we reported on funeral home directors who are now facing charges after investigators found 190 bodies that were "improperly stored". We could continue, but we believe we've made the point. 

Javan Jones of the Colorado Funeral Directors Association said there's one big reason Colorado continues to see things like this happen: we are the only state that does not require funeral homeowners to be licensed to practice the profession. A funeral home itself needs to be licensed, but Jones said that's a low bar of entry. 

"To own a funeral home, all you would have to do is file a file for a license with DORA," Jones explained. "Pretty minimal paperwork, just to prove that you are a funeral home."

From there, it doesn't matter if you have 15 years of experience or you're about to start processing the deceased for the very first time, Colorado says you're good to go.


Jones, who owns a few funeral homes and crematoriums himself, calls this system "hugely embarrassing."

"You're helping people in their darkest hour, in order to do that, you have to show compassion," Jones said. "You have to show trustworthiness. You can take advantage of them financially. Therefore, as a funeral director, you have to have yourself on a higher pedestal to make those decisions or help them make the decisions that are proper for the individual at that time."

Jones believes that's a large part of where we see things fall apart with these news stories about bodies piling up at funeral homes. 

"It is my personal belief that that a lot of times people get into situations where they can't pay for the services or they make bad financial decisions and then there's no laws in place in order to follow up on what's going on behind the scenes," Jones explained. 


While this might seem bleak, Jones believes there is hope on the horizon. A group of lawmakers are putting together a proposal that would require funeral home directors to have a license (or two, depending on if they plan on embalming bodies as well) in order to operate. He said the only problem is, that this isn't the first time we've tried to change this in Colorado, and last time it failed. 

Jones said the majority of funeral home directors in Colorado are not licensed, and if a law like this passed, we'd suddenly have a huge shortage of people helping process bodies once people have passed. 

 "It would be crazy," Jones explained. "There would be a backlog of decedents that we couldn't process."


That's why this new proposal would take that into account, grandfathering in select funeral home directors who meet certain requirements (TBD) and can show they can safely operate even though they do not have a license in order to stop a backlog. But new regulations need to be installed, according to Jones, who said it's gone on like this for too long at this point. 

"It's really weird to me that in order to be a plumber or an electrician or a hairdresser, any of that, you have to have a license," Jones said. "We're dealing embalming is a it's a surgical procedure. Right? You're altering somebody's body, cremation. You're essentially destroying somebody's body to ash or with fire. So you're doing a lot of major things that you can just go pick up a Joe Schmo on the side of the street and say, 'you're an embalmer.'"

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