Court Tells 82-Year-Old She Wasted 8 Years Fighting For Right To Bury Husband On Her Property

Eight years ago, a woman in Connecticut buried her late husband on their 8-acre property, where previous owners had been interring the dead for generations. But her subsequent attempt to make sure this was all okay with local authorities has led her on a legal wild goose chase all the way to the state Supreme Court — and now all the way back to where she started.

The legal lunacy began after the woman’s husband passed away in 2004. Even though she’d had his burial supervised by a licensed funeral director, someone suggested to her afterward that she check with the state anyway to make sure it was okay to bury someone on her property.

The matter was passed from the state back to the town, where a zoning enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order against the widow.

She appealed to the zoning board and a month later, received a letter informing her that while the burial was not permitted, the cease and desist order was being withdrawn to allow the widow time to “remedy the situation.”

Because the board withdrew the C&D order, the widow withdrew her appeal. But she also petitioned the state Superior Court for a ruling on the legality of the burial.

But yesterday, by a 4-3 vote, the state’s highest court ruled that the widow skipped steps and thus has to go back to re-filing her appeal with the local zoning board.

From the Hartford Courant:

The Supreme Court majority said Piquet was premature in appealing local zoning opposition to her husband’s private burial to the state court system. The decision said she should have appealed initially to the local Zoning Board of Appeals and exhausted all opportunities to resolve the dispute administratively before turning to the courts.

“… [W]hen a landowner obtains a clear and definite interpretation of zoning regulations applicable to the landowner’s current use of his or her property, the landowner properly may appeal that interpretation to the local zoning board of appeals,” the decision said in part.

“So we start the program all over again,” said the widow’s attorney.

High Court Decision Frustrates Widow’s Bid For Backyard Burial [Courant.com]

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  1. Oh_No84 says:

    This is strange that they wont allow this. It is your property, you should be able to bury whatever you want that is nonhazardous. People bury their animals all the time in their yards, this is no different. The only issue is burying on private property means that once it is sold the new owner can get rid of the body. So if you want the body to stay intact and in one spot then burying on residential property is not a good idea.

    • leprofie says:

      It’s not legal here to bury pets in your yard.

      • JollySith says:

        It is not legal in any incorporated city that I know of to bury animals in your back yard.
        I have done it anyhow and so have thousands of other people, but it is not legal.

        • Difdi says:

          Does that mean that if you find a dead bird or dead squirrel in your yard, you must pay to have it interred in the local cemetery?

          • dwasifar says:

            Um, no, you throw it in the trash.

            You haven’t been going around conducting funerals for squirrels, have you? I don’t know if that’s illegal, but I do know it’s freakin’ weird.

      • edman007 says:

        Depends how much land you have, it’s a health issue if you’re burying things right next to your house, and in more dense areas they just make it law since it would be a health issue for most people.

    • who? says:

      Private property rights don’t extend to doing things that cause harm to your neighbors. There are a lot of ways that burying someone could go wrong. That’s why there’s a rather verbose state law covering private burial grounds (thanks Blueskylaw). We don’t actually know if she’s really doing everything right or not. If she is, presumably she should be able to drill the test holes, etc, and get approval.

      As far as burying pets, most towns and cities ban that, too. Our neighbors bought a house from these people who were hoarders, who had buried at least 25 pets in the backyard over the years. They ended up having to have guys in white suits come out and clean it up.

      • JEDIDIAH says:

        She has 8 acres.

        Chances are that her neighbors have the same view on property rights that she does and one that conflicts with your overly urbanized sensibilities.

        • JJFIII says:

          So since she has 8 acres there is NO CHANCE of it ever being subdivided or of animals digging up the body or of disease being spread?

          • dragonvpm says:

            You do realize that this wasn’t a shallow grave by the back door right? She hired a funeral director who (presumably) followed standard practices for burying the body. Given that this happened EIGHT years ago then no there is no chance of disease being spread by that body and it is unlikely that any animal without earth moving equipment would dig it up either.

            • Pre-Existing Condition says:

              I imagine the funeral director made her sign a document indicating that she was responsible for all permits with the city.

              At least, that’s how my firm handles grave repatriation/relocation projects. We’ll follow applicable state/local guidelines but it’s ultimately the responsibility of the landowner to submit the paperwork to the city and state.

              • dragonvpm says:

                The issue of permitting is seperate from that of whether her neighbors can/will catch diseases or the body will be dug up by critters.

                I’m sure your firm follows state/local guidelines and “best practices” to make sure all the graves you work on are safe and properly done regardless of what the permit/paperwork situation is.

            • who? says:

              Like I said, assuming the site is appropriate, and grandpa is buried appropriately, I don’t see why the town shouldn’t her get the permits retroactively. But 8 acres isn’t actually that much land, and it doesn’t necessarily put grandpa all that far from the neighbors. A square piece of land that’s 8 acres is only 590 feet on a side, which means that grandpa is within 300 feet of a neighboring property.

              Just because somebody started burying bodies there in the 1770’s doesn’t mean that it’s an appropriate place to bury them in 2004.

              • dragonvpm says:

                To put it in perspective, 300ft would be somewhere in the ballpark of 6 houses away from a neighboring property (assuming about 50′ per lot which is reasonable for a lot of sub-divisions). Given how many graveyards exist within cities and how many of those do actually have homes/businesses immediately next to them, I would be inclined to think that 8 acres is probably adequate for burying a few people.

                If there was a concern about burying someone it would be if the area had a lot of well water use and the water table was really cloe to the surface, but even then it’s unlikely that a single body, buried 8 years ago would cause any health concerns. I would imagine that the fight at this point is mostly academic and possibly something the widow might be pursuing so that she can be buried next to her husband in the future.

        • who? says:

          8 acres is less than you think it is.

          • Mark702 says:

            Not really. My grandparents have 2 acres and I’d kill to have a place like that for playing with my dogs, play football, etc.

          • winnabago says:

            You could build a good size civic arena with a few hundred parking spots on 8 acres.

        • bbb111 says:

          “Chances are that her neighbors have the same view on property rights that she does…”

          However, depending on the location, she could be contaminating the neighbor’s well (or her own.) [I once helped bury some cows and we had a discussion with the neighbors about well locations and underground water flow before picking a location.]

      • Kate Blue says:

        This property already had a graveyard on it. Did you read the first paragraph?

    • Jawaka says:

      So what happens when she dies, the home is sold, new owners move and and start digging to plant tomatoes or something?

      • Wrathernaut says:

        I’m no gardener, but I don’t plant tomatoes 6 feet underground.

      • Kuri says:

        What if the plot is nowhere near a flower bed or any other place someone might want to plant?

      • poco says:

        There’s already a graveyard on the land, according to the article. If the new owners wanted to dig up the property they’d have to disinter several bodies, not just her husband’s.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    Private Burial Grounds:

    Section 19a-313 of the Connecticut General Statutes prohibits burial or entombment except in an established cemetery controlled by a municipality, ecclesiastical society or cemetery association, or in a private burying ground or structure approved by the State Department of Public Health.

    For approval of such a private burying ground or structure by this office, we require that the applicant complete and submit to this office an application form. The application should include the name of the owner of the property where the private burial ground is to be located, giving both the name, address and telephone number of the owner and the address of the property where the burying ground is located. The application should specify the total acreage of the property, dimensions of the proposed burying ground, and the number of burying lots proposed.

    There is no specific restriction on distance to neighboring houses, but other statues have specified a distance of 350 feet from the nearest house. We request that the applicant list a number of houses within 350 feet. We may contact the property owners and request their comments concerning the burying ground. We also request you indicate the separating distance to the neighboring property lines and the name and address of the owner of any property within 25 feet of the burying ground. This information is usually provided on a surveyor’s plot plan, which is required to be filed on the town land records.

    The burying ground should have good surface drainage and test holes will need to be dug to determine the depth of the groundwater level and ledge rock. Uunsuitable drainage and soil conditions should be avoided for burial purposes. The property will be inspected by a representative of this office to determine the suitability of the site conditions and also to assure that the burying ground will be located sufficiently far from water supply wells, open watercourses, sewage disposal systems and storm drains.

    It is strongly recommended that before you proceed too far with arrangements for a private burying ground, you check with the local Planning and Zoning Commissions to be sure there is not some local requirement which would prohibit the use of the property as a burying ground. We also require the owner provide an easement or right-of-way to allow access from the street to the private burying ground, and that the record of the plot plan with easement or right-of-way be written on the deed to the property and filed in the town land records. In order to give due notice, the State Department of Public Health may have a Legal Notice of the application published in the local newspaper with an opportunity for comment. There is no legal definition of a private burying ground, but it is assumed that it would be for people associated with the families, and that the lots would not be sold. Under Connecticut State Law, a burial permit must be obtained from the Town Clerk or any other person who is authorized to issue burial permits.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I’d hope there was a grandfather clause for established private burial sites, which I believe is the situation the woman is in.

      • RedOryx says:

        “private burying ground or structure approved by the State Department of Public Health.”

        So I guess that’s the question, if it was approved by the state.

      • JollySith says:

        Unless you are stacking the body or have documentation showing that there was additional land approved for burial other than where the bodies already are then you would be expanding the burial are and forfeiting any grandfathering you might have had.

        I get it the lady is in her 80’s and wants to be near the final resting place of her dearly departed. but there are legal steps that have to be followed, she did not follow them correctly. i would much rather have this one little old lady having to go through paperwork hell than have every Tom Dick and Harry being able to dispose of rotting corpses anywhere they please.

      • chargernj says:

        Probably wouldn’t apply since it was the previous owners who buried their dead on the property. I would think the clause expired when the original family sold the property.

      • kobresia says:

        This is one of the situations where “grandfather clause” can be taken literally!

        But I’m going to say you’re probably incorrect, grandfathering would certainly apply to all the bodies buried on the land prior to the ordinance, but once the ordinance kicks-in, it wouldn’t be legal to bury any new bodies.

        It’s a funny thing, the closest “real” town to where I live had a problem with amateur cryonic storage (and the corpse was actually the guy’s grandfather in that case, too!), so while Grandpa was grandfathered in, once the town knew that this had happened, they quickly passed an ordinance to halt cryonic storage of human corpses on residents’ properties. While Grandpa stayed in cold storage, that did not open the door for any new corpses to be stored with him. He’s been really, really lonely in his icy tomb since his pal Al was removed from the cooler and given a proper burial.

  3. JJFIII says:

    So let’s say in the future this land is sold because the kids or grand kids can not afford it. The next article will be about the “horrible” people who dug up their fathers remains to build a pole barn or larger home or swimming pool.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      I had to look up what a pole barn was.

      http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/build-pole-barns-1.jpg

    • Kuri says:

      If the plot is clearly marked, how would this happen?

      • OriginalFiveO says:

        There is no guarantee that the plot can be adequately defined if it’s not maintained for years. I’ve seen old graveyards where there is sometimes no defined boundaries of where bodies lay and the only “evidence” of a grave is a pile of ill-defined stones or shattered concrete. Even my family has had issues with one grave of one of my relatives and her several babies that died when they were young. We know where she is buried, but we have no clue where the babies were exactly buried, just educated guesses and hearsay.

  4. Coffee says:

    I hope the lesson was learned. When it comes to bureaucracies and something like this, which doesn’t involve money, the best policy is to do whatever you feel like (within reason), then act ignorant if there’s a problem down the line. When asked “can I do X?” the answer will always be no, not because it’s the correct answer, but because the person giving it can’t be bothered or doesn’t want to assume any accountability that giving an affirmative answer would entail.

  5. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    When the land is sold will it come with a don’t-dig-me-up covenant? Will the new owner need a permit to disinter?

  6. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    “You NEVER ask permission to bury a body on your property.”

    – John Wayne Gacy

    • TheCorporateGeek Says Common Sense Is The Key says:

      But then again if it would be an approved private site according to the state, new owners couldn’t just come in and dig it up. It would be protected just as a cemetery would at that point.

  7. dush says:

    Corporations can get permits to dump pollution in a river but this lady can’t bury her husband on her own property. What a sad state we’ve reached.

  8. sgtyukon says:

    As I read this, the court merely told her she has to exhaust her administrative remedies before she can hit the courts. That’s SOP everyplace I’ve ever lived. So, if her zoning appeal had gone against her, she could go to court, but since it was withdrawn, she can’t. She has to go to the board of zoning appeals (or whatever they call it there) first. Of course Blueskylaw posted the applicable Connecticut law, so she may have to go to the State Health Department instead or too.

    • DriveByLurker says:

      So…she can restart the process by burying a dead Zoning Enforcement guy in her back yard, right?

  9. ProfS says:

    My grandparents still have a Maytag Washer and Dryer from 1971 and have only had to make small repairs (mostly belts). They’re bile yellow, but they run like a dream.

  10. bben says:

    Zoning boards are run (owned) by real estate agents who’s main concern is that someone will do something that will cause the property value to decrease in that area – meaning they get less money if the place, or a nearby place is ever sold. From the description, this internment was in a private cemetery that has been in use for generations. In most jurisdictions, these are grandfathered in for zoning. Some places do forbid any more burials if the private cemetery is considered abandoned. As the burial was done by a licensed funeral director the problem is not with health or sanitation laws but with a local zoning board who’s members (Real estate agents) would prefer to not have a cemetery visible when they are showing nearby homes to people.

    I have a cousin who has an abandoned private cemetery on his property with several marked graves dating to the 1790s. He has no problems with the inhabitants and says they make good neighbors. He does cut the grass and run off teenagers. But allows anyone who asks to view the place. A local AMVets member comes by and puts out a couple of flags every year.

  11. shepd says:

    This completely makes sense, if you understand how bad this can end up if everyone did it. In Paris basements walls were once exploding with dead bodies. Seriously.

    Of course, it is her own property, so she can do as she wishes. She probably doesn’t care, but the property will be basically unsaleable after she dies because who the hell wants land with dead people buried there?

    Then again, perhaps the Goth folks would pay a premium?

  12. kataisa says:

    someone suggested to her afterward that she check with the state anyway to make sure it was okay to bury someone on her property.

    That was the first mistake. Why do people assume the state government is benevolent, here only to serve, protect, and assist its citizens? That myth was exposed a long time ago. Never trust the state to do the right thing for you or your family. Just look at the Terri Shiavo case for further proof.

  13. taaurrus says:

    I thought she was filing all this stuff on her own but she had an attorney?? Shouldn’t the attorney have know the proper legal steps to take? After all – he is an ATTORNEY – why did he skip steps and/or allow his client too?!

  14. Mr. Spy says:

    Hope the new owner doesn’t want a swimming pool. That’d be a fun day and a nice talk with the police.