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AGO 1951 No. 105 - August 21, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

SOCIAL SECURITY ‑- FUNDS ‑- GENERAL ASSISTANCE ‑- COUNTY BURIAL CHARGES

1. The expense of burial of an indigent person provided by the county commissioners can be made a charge against the two mill General Assistance fund.

2. County welfare departments, as agents for the county commissioners, are responsible for authorizing and approving for payment claims for such funerals.

3. In the event remains of an indigent person are claimed by relatives or friends, the responsibility for providing a funeral rests upon such relatives or friends, if there is money available to pay for such funeral.

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                                                                 August 21, 1951

Honorable Roderic Olzendam
Director
Department of Social Security
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 105

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for the opinion of this office on the following questions:

            1. If the county commissioners of a county provide for the burial of the remains of an indigent person not a recipient of public assistance who died within the county and whose body is unclaimed by relatives or friends, can the expense of such burial be made a change against the two mill General Assistance fund?

            2. In such situations does the county welfare department have any responsibility in the matter of authorizing or approving for payment claims for such funerals?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            3. How and by whom are funerals provided for indigent persons, not recipients of public assistance, but whose remains are claimed by relatives or friends?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            1. The expense of burial of an indigent person provided by the county commissioners can be made a charge against the two mill General Assistance fund.

            2. County welfare departments, as agents for the county commissioners, are responsible for authorizing and approving for payment claims for such funerals.

            3. In the event remains of an indigent person are claimed by relatives or friends, the responsibility for providing a funeral rests upon such relatives or friends, if there is money available to pay for such funeral.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your first question is concerned with whether, under chapter 258, Laws of 1951, the expense of funerals for indigent persons, who are not recipients of public assistance, can properly be made a charge against the county two mill General Assistance fund.  Section 1, chapter 258, Laws of 1951, provides as follows:

            "The board of county commissioners of any county shall provide for the disposition of the remains of any indigent person not a recipient of public assistance who dies within the county and whose body is unclaimed by relatives or friends."

            Section 2, chapter 258 Laws of 1951, attempted to repeal Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986, the last remnant of the old poor laws.  However, section 2 was vetoed by the Governor and so Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986 still remains on the books.  It provides as follows:

            "When any non-resident, or any other person not coming within the definition of a pauper, shall fall sick in any county in this state, not having money or property to pay his board, nursing or medical aid, it shall be the duty of the commissioners of the proper county, on complaint being made, to give or order to be given such assistance to such poor person as they may deem just and necessary; and if  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] said sick person shall die, then the said commissioners shall give or order to be given to such person a decent burial; and the said commissioners shall make such allowance for board, nursing, medical aid, or burial expenses, as they shall deem just and equitable, and order the same to be paid out of the County Treasury."

            In a series of opinions over the past fifteen years, this office has construed the responsibility of the county and the Department of Social Security under Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986.  For example, in an opinion dated August 20, 1942, to the Department of Social Security, the department was advised that inasmuch as the county welfare department has charge of the administration of all public assistance within the county, it is responsible for providing funerals to persons under section 9986.  It was pointed out, in addition, that all expenditures of funds from the two mill levy must have the approval of the county welfare department and there could be no expenditures by the county commissioners unless and until the county welfare department has approved such expenditures.

            Again, in an opinion dated January 9, 1946, to the Department of Social Security, it was pointed out that the burial of indigent persons was properly a part of the public assistance laws of our state, and was the responsibility of the county as administered by the county welfare department.  In an opinion dated January 17, 1949, to Mr. R. C. Watts, Executive Secretary of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners [[Opinion No. 47-49-515]], the question concerning whether or not county commissioners have authority to pay out of the county welfare fund necessary amounts to cover, among other things, burial costs for indigent persons within the county who are not covered by the Citizens Security Act, and whether or not those expenditures may be made from the county welfare funds or other funds, it was pointed out that the proceeds of the two mill levy may be used to carry out the obligations of the county under Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986.  The opinion also quoted an opinion referred to above of August 20, 1942, to the effect that the counties' obligation under 9986, if not covered by the two mill levy, could be a charge upon the current expense fund of the county.  In conclusion that opinion stated as follows:

            "Thus, to summarize, it is our opinion that a county is obligated to make provision for medical aid and burial of persons in need thereof not within the terms of Initiative 172, and that the proceeds of the two mill levy for public assistance may be used  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] for this purpose and that if they are not sufficient the obligation is chargeable against the current expense fund of the county."

            It is apparent that section 1 of chapter 258, Laws of 1951, was merely an attempt by the legislature to rewrite Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986 to make it conform with the other public assistance laws of this state and to eliminate those provisions of 9986 which had been repealed by implication by subsequent legislation.  The veto of section 2 by the Governor left Rem. Rev. Stat. 9986 in the law.  The result is that both sections 1 and 2 provide that the county commissioners shall provide for funerals for indigent persons.

            Accordingly, the opinions of the Attorney General's office to the effect that the county commissioners may carry out their function under those laws, through the county welfare departments, are not changed by the enactment of chapter 258, Laws of 1951.  Accordingly, and by way of summary, it is the opinion of this office that under chapter 258, Laws of 1951, the expense of burial of indigent persons is properly a charge against the two mill General Assistance fund.

            In answer to your second question, the county welfare department is responsible for authorizing and approving for payment claims for such funerals.

            In answer to your third question, it would appear that section 1, chapter 258, Laws of 1951, assumes that where the remains of indigent persons are claimed by relatives or friends, such relatives or friends will provide money to pay for the funeral costs.  However, in the event that such relatives or friends are unable to pay costs for a funeral, the county welfare department, acting for the county commissioners, can provide the usual funeral.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

JANE DOWDLE
Assistant Attorney General

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