So many worked so hard to find resolutions to the multiple issues at Restlawn last winter and spring. As we came against one brick wall after another, it became evident that South Dakota cemetery law had inadequate provisions to address our concerns.
The South Dakota Legislature begins the 2019 session on Tuesday, January 8. Below is the letter we wrote to the legislators in Beadle County. We urge everyone who has issues or concerns regarding Restlawn to write to their representatives. Here’s a link to find yours:
We are writing to request that you sponsor legislation in the upcoming 2019 session that will serve to close the serious gaps in South Dakota cemetery law. As you might recall from our previous communication, we represent the Restlawn Alliance of South Dakota, a group of people who have had ongoing concerns about Restlawn Memory Gardens.
Most of the members of the Restlawn Alliance are your constituents in Beadle County. Others are the constituents of other SD legislators, and a few of us are now living out of state. All of us, however, have dealt with Restlawn, Inc.’s failure to deliver pre-paid markers, failure to repair markers damaged by cemetery staff, the poor upkeep of the cemetery buildings and grounds, the poor communication from its out-of-state owner, and/or the lack of transparency about the status of the perpetual care trust fund.
Through public pressure, much of which came from the Restlawn Alliance, some of these issues have been minimally addressed in recent months. However, the status of the trust fund in particular remains an area of great concern to us; there is no mechanism that provides information about the health of the trust fund to those who have purchased pre-paid contracts or to their descendants. As an example of the impact of this concern, the two of us have chosen not to inter our parents’ cremains at Restlawn at this time, even though they purchased and pre-paid for plots and markers decades ago. We have not felt that we can yet follow through on our parents’ wishes to be buried there since we have no idea of status of the trust fund and whether there are sufficient funds to maintain the cemetery over time. We also have a number other close family members interred at Restlawn, and the upkeep of their graves is very important to us as well. Dozens of other people have contacted us with similar concerns, and, as you probably know, some families have chosen to move their relatives’ remains to other cemeteries and mausoleums due to the deterioration of the buildings and grounds at Restlawn.
Our hope is that you and your colleagues in the state legislature will act in the upcoming session to address these issues and to bring South Dakota’s cemetery laws closer to the protections provided by the laws in other states.
Specifically, we ask that you sponsor legislation that speaks to the following issues:
Accountability Currently, there is noofficial body or person in South Dakota that provides oversight of cemeteries. We suggest that the current Board of Funeral Service add a division of Cemetery Oversight that would include the ability to inspect cemetery grounds and records, especially those pertaining to trust funds.
Transparency We strongly encourage that each perpetual care cemetery be required to submit a complete and thorough annual report of the status of its trust fund and that such reports be made available to the public upon request regardless of the size of the cemetery.
Trust Management We advocate SD statute 55-12-18 be amended so that “funds to be administered by trustee under control of licensed banking institution” include cemeteries with less than three thousandpeople buried. We also strongly recommend a provision be included stating that no cemetery operator, director, officer or shareholder may borrow or in any other way make use of the perpetual care trust funds for his/her own use.
Requirement to provide care We advocate a provision that perpetual care cemeteries be required to provide upkeep of the cemetery’s buildings and grounds.
Violations We recommend that penalties for willful violations of cemetery law be strengthened to include higher financial penalties and even incarceration in egregious cases.
We are grateful for your attention to this request and would be very happy to speak with you in more detail about this important matter. We could also help you get in touch with your constituents in Beadle County who would be able to talk with you in person about this request.
We understand that you know that, while those buried in Restlawn are themselves past worry, the conditions this cemetery greatly trouble those of us with loved ones there.
Vicki Roth Valerie Roth Roubos
Rochester, NY Spokane, WA