It appears that, if you live in Detroit, there is no escaping debt — not even with your own death. Detroit’s funeral directors received a curious message for the city last month reading “FYI, city of Detroit can’t process death certificates because they have no paper and don’t have money to buy any.” It is the ultimate hellscape scenario: you cannot even legally die. The question is how this refusal to issue death certificates will affect the myriad of insurance and legal obligations of surviving families. Vendors are now refusing to issue credit to the city and the paper vendor has demanded cash. The city refused, so families have been left with the undead.
We have been following Detroit’s plunge into insolvency for years. While the city was clearly hit by the economic changes, particularly the decline of the auto market, the effort to blame that economic downturn for the city’s problems ignores decades of corrupt and wasteful government. Detroit politicians have been under continual criminal investigation and many have been forced to resign or have gone to jail. Yet, Detroit voters continued to elect the least competent and most corrupt figures to lead the city. That history had soured the reaction of many to demands for federal bailouts.
The plan is for Wayne County to take over issuing birth and death certificates. That’s right, until the shift, Detroit will also have a class of the unborn.
Even with a delay of a week or so, families will not be able to access bank accounts, file for insurance payments or even file in probate court. The delay may not seem too difficult for most families but it can be a critical barrier for those who are close to the economic cliff.
In the meantime, a funeral director is quoted as saying that he was appalled to see city workers at the vital records department sitting outside because they had nothing to do.