Detroit Stopped Issuing Death Certificates After Declaring Bankruptcy

And we’re worried about fixing Syria?

Detroit’s funeral directors received this unusual text message last month. “FYI, city of Detroit can’t process death certificates because they have no paper and don’t have money to buy any.”

The message, from a fellow funeral director, was mostly true: The city did stop issuing certified copies of birth and death certificates on July 23, days after the July 18 bankruptcy filing. That day, a nervous paper vendor demanded cash — and the city wanted to do business as usual, on credit.

FYI: In bankrupt and frequently bizarre Detroit, dying is easy. It’s proving you are dead that’s hard.

Cutbacks in hours, balky vendors, and the news that Herman Kiefer Complex will close Oct. 1 are all affecting the city’s death and dying business. The city’s vital records department will close and Wayne County will assume responsibility for issuing birth and death certificates, according to Bill Nowling, spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

“Have you ever heard such a crock?” asked Wallace Williams, president of the Michigan Select Funeral Directors Association, when asked about the paper shortage. “They told us they ran out of paper and it might take five days to get some.” Williams, who texted his 20 or so funeral director members, says the potential impact of a death certificate shortage was dire.

Without certified copies of death certificates, families couldn’t access bank accounts, file insurance claims, or access probate court. The families are often struggling financially, grieving and frustrated by any bureaucratic delay. And although funeral homes provide copies as a service to families, they wind up taking the heat.