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Can a funeral director keep ashes until they have been paid?

No, they can’t. Some funeral directors choose to hold ashes until the family pay the bill, but they are not allowed to. It is the applicant’s right under Section 7 of the Cremation Act 1902 and Statutory Rules and Orders, 1903, No 286. Cremation England & Wales.

It must be noted that this is NOT standard practice for the vast majority of funeral directors. However, funeral directors are often small independent business’ and when bills aren’t paid it can have a crippling impact.  And non-payment does happen, funeral costs are substantial and families will often wish to show their respects by arranging a fitting send-off. Sometimes this is without knowledge that it is beyond their means, or what the estate can afford. Also, as many funeral arrangements are made somewhat in haste, it is sometimes the case that commitments for spending are made before agreement has been reached in the family as to who is paying for what – and subsequent disagreements can leave the funeral director out of pocket. So some choose to hold to that ashes by way of an insurance, they can’t and they shouldn’t but you can see why they might consider it.


23 thoughts on “Can a funeral director keep ashes until they have been paid?

  1. Reply
    Sharon - 1st October 2022

    It’s been almost two years now since my dad passed. The funeral directors still haven’t sent an amended bill or new order of service. My dad’s ashes are still with them. I last spoke to them December 2020. Surely they are in the wrong with this. Two years without a word a letter nothing. We still have the money for his funeral. Are we within our rights to now refuse to pay. This has become very stressful for us. As we feel we have done everything correctly. Yet they have failed in their obligations for a new order of service or an amended bill. After promising it was getting sent straight away by them.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 3rd October 2022

      Hi Sharon

      It sounds like they have let you down, however this wouldn’t mean you would not have to pay, you may be able to negotiate a discount. I would suggest contacting them again. The funeral was in the middle of the Covid outbreak and Funeral Directors were under a huge amount of pressure. So whilst I think the service you was not up to your standards – the easiest thing to do would be to get in contact with them, if they don’t respond then use their trade federation to help you.
      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Nina - 2nd September 2022

    Funeral director is in service of the money not the passed away loved ones. They can’t but they do this with my partner ashes, holding them for nearly 3 months.
    I asked funeral grant help from the government. When the funeral was arranged with the director they said that the government will cover all the bill and will pay back the £900 I pay for the cremation, after the ashes can be collected 2-3 days after the funeral, two weeks later I called them and have appointment for the collection. That Friday me, his mum and our 8 years old daughter went to take the loved one at home, but once there they told us with arrogance that they will not give the ashes before they get payed and to call them back when the letter from government come at home, we leave crying filling miserable. Today I called them to collect the ashes because the letter came, but they tell me that the owner is away and next week he will check if they received the payment to release the ashes. The government is not covering all the expenses and I will pay the difference even for me the times became very hard. I am in pieces today.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th September 2022

      Hi Nina
      This sounds like a very sad situation. It must be very distressing. They can’t hold on to ashes – although some do for payment reasons. I hope that when the owner come back it can be resolved. Otherwise you may need to go to Trading Standards.
      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Steph - 5th December 2021

    Hi, My Dad passed away last week. He is to be cremated. I wish to be there when the ashes are scattered (which may take a year or so to get to the UK from Australia. The fee for all this will be paid, but can his ashes be left with the directors until I get there and will they charge for keeping them?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 8th December 2021

      I would hope the Funeral Directors would do this without charge

  4. Reply
    Sharon - 14th July 2021

    Good Morning, I am looking for some advice. My dad died last October. We held a humanist funeral. However the funeral parlour messed up on his order of service and a slide show. We were promised a new order of service would be sent to us. Nothing. Now 9 months we are still waiting for the amended bill. Which we asked for in December last year. We are now getting to the point were we thinking of refusing to pay. As we are feeling that we aren’t being allowed to move on from our dad’s passing. Due to the funeral parlour messing up.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 15th July 2021

      Dear Sharon
      If it was me I would also make a part payment and I would write to them explaining the situation and tell them that the remainder of the payment it dependant on the delivery of the order of service and that this was promised. I would also say that a solicitor letter will follow. This an issue of breach of contract, so this would like produce a reasonable outcome.
      I hope this helps.
      Kind regards

  5. Reply
    Teri Lipski-Fitzgerald - 20th December 2019

    I am in desperate need for some advice or better yet, some help!
    I have been the victim of a direct violation of my Sepulchre Rights in California. Can you refer me or present a list of attorneys that specialize in this area?? Please. Thankyou. Teri Fitzgerald *********

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 6th January 2020

      Dear Teri
      I am sorry to hear your news. We are UK based company and as such we have no knowledge of legal firms that specialise in this in the US. I am sorry I hope your search goes well.
      Kind regards

      1. Reply
        Linda McKenzie - 21st September 2021

        Hi my sister died four years ago and the funeral directors still have her ashes they have gave family till December this year for to pay outstanding bill if not paid they going to dump them is this legal

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 21st September 2021

          No this not how they should proceed. If the ashes are uncollected they are allowed to dispose of them, if the person responsible for collecting them gets in touch with them they are supposed to release them. Are the family able to pay the outstanding money or come to some agreement how this should be paid, this is best solution all round.

    2. Reply
      Trace - 4th April 2020

      I’ve sent female to funeral, asking for bank account so I can pay remainder of bill. And how to get my farthers ashes.
      I received e.ale from debt collector saying I am to go through them. I take fuerale directors refussing contact and payment. So I cant see why or how to get farthers ashes as there is no contact. And I have no earn with the ashes

      1. Reply
        Richard Martin - 7th April 2020

        I think I understand what you are getting at Trace. I suppose they are waiting to hear back from the debt recovery company and then will release the ashes…

        1. Reply
          T - 17th April 2020

          I have paid every month and only missed jan feb because I was in hostpitail. The debt collector is asking fo 600 more than what I owe. The fuera le directed new I was I’ll and disabled , but have still kept up payments apart from those mounts in fact paid more on some than had too, I am in lockdown in shielding and can’t do anything

          1. Richard Martin - 21st April 2020

            That does sound like an awful situation, I would see if there is someone able to meditate on your behalf. I would contact the funeral trade body that represents the funeral director or charitable organisation that may be suitable for your circumstances?

  6. Reply
    Jayne Harbour - 5th December 2019

    I’m struggling with information and hope someone may be able to help.

    My father died last year. Our mother died 15 years ago and Dad had a long-standing girlfriend when he died.

    We accepted Dads choice of partners but never got along (I have 1 brother and we are very close).

    Dads girlfriend has. Even controlling abs manipulative, to the point if him signing the house and vehicles in her name. We’re not interested, it’s onky money.

    But, since dad first went into hospital she was aggressive towards myself and my brother, leaving abusive messages and emails to us both.

    After 3 weeks in ICU Dad was moved to a palliative care ward where he died.

    My father passed away with my brother and I with him. His girlfriend had been removed by security 48 hours previously due to her behaviour

    Unbeknownst to us, Dad has left a meter if Wishes with the funeral director, which was lovely.

    My brother and I carried it out to the better. And it embassy a lovely day. Dads girlfriend would not engage with us once she found out Dad had written all this down.

    Dads Wishes re his ashes were fully in place and very precise.

    Sadly, my brother and I were not in a position to pay the remainder of his funeral expenses so included this with the application to probate.

    We have now heard from our solicitor, Dads girlfriend paid off the outstanding amount (despite it being included in the court application) and now neither if them will tell us what’s happened to Dads ashes.

    The solicitors have told us his response is “ his wishes have been executed’ … but they obviously haven’t. As his sides were myself and my brother scatter his ashes together… which we have been making arrangements and talking about.

    So my questions are:

    Can the funeral director ‘give’ the ashes to anyone or us there a legal ‘hierarchy’ ie you pay the bill off you claim the ashes?

    Can the funeral director choose to ‘meet the wishes’ Himself without consulting the deceased’s only family? No emails, phone calls or letters.

    If this has happened, obviously my Dads ashes are gone. But is there any way I can legally expose him fir his actions.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 10th December 2019

      Dear Jayne
      Sorry to hear the awful situation
      It would appear that the estate paid and she is the only beneficiary, the contract is effectively with her the funeral director must give the ashes to her. Although when it dealt with by an executor I am not sure.
      No he must do as instructed by the person whom has contracted him.
      I am not sure he has legally done anything wrong. You would need to speak to a lawyer, if he has then yes I would expect there would be.
      Sorry that I can’t give you better news.

      1. Reply
        Jayne - 11th December 2019

        Hi Richard,
        Thanks fir taking the time to reply.

        She is not a beneficiary and has had no dealings with Dads estate. We’d added what was left to pay to the application fir probate, but she went unbeknownst to us to the funeral director and paid off the balance.

  7. Reply
    Robert Johnson - 1st January 2019

    A friend can not afford the $1.200 to pick up her Sons ashes. She has no family to help, so was wondering what other options does she have since she is on a fixed income

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 4th January 2019

      Dear Robert
      It is difficult for me to comment on how it works in the US, however here are some suggestions:
      – go to the funeral director and ask the for terms eg a reduction or payment terms spread over time
      – there are charities that may be able to help by lending the money, here in the UK ones like the Quakers or maybe a credit union may be able to help
      – ask friends if they are able to help in a small way, collectively this may solve the issue
      – or collectively all of the above in some way could solve the issue
      Kind regards

  8. Reply
    Y. Wilson - 3rd March 2018

    If a person signs to say that ashes can be held until the bill is paid, then a contract then exists ? – a person cannot knowingly sign a contract if they know they will renege on it.
    A person can refuse to sign and therefore will be required to pay all monies in advance of the funeral. A good funeral director will help you look at the best way for controlling the expense and help you with DWP or try to assist with any other means to help you pay for the funeral. If a funeral director helps in this way, then it is only fair that you are fair with them.

    Most funeral directors will have terms and conditions and for you to sign.
    16. After the cremation of the remains of a deceased person the ashes shall be given into the charge of the person who applied for the cremation if he so desires. If not, they shall be retained by the cremation authority and, in the absence of any special arrangement for their burial or preservation, they shall either be decently interred in a burial ground or in land adjoining the crematorium reserved for the burial of ashes. In the case of ashes left temporarily in the charge of the cremation authority and not removed within a reasonable time, a fortnight’s notice shall be given to the person who applied for the cremation before the remains are interred. –
    NOTE: THAT PERSON NOTIFIED IS USUALLY THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR not the relative – so it is a grey area as crematoria do not have the public going in to pick up ashes. It can be argued that the funeral director is that person
    NOTE: … first line charge of the person who applied for the cremation if he so desires. It can be argued by signing a form to hold the ashes to the funeral director they have “so desired to do so”.

    Could the Act be interpreted in such a way?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th March 2018

      Dear Yvonne
      Firstly thank you for taking the time for sending this in. It is really thought provoking. I am not a lawyer, however we will hopefully be teaming up with one soon. You may have a point, however the advice is from Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors whom I believe have had direction from a lawyer, I presume the funeral director on has proxy rights and the rights still with applicant? I will see if I can persuade a lawyer to add the categorical answer.

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