What happens to unclaimed ashes?
What happens to unclaimed ashes? Cremation ashes left in urn on the shelf. It is not as uncommon as you might think. Sometimes families just forget to pick up the urn. A relative dies in the winter, and the grieving family wants to wait until the spring to scatter or bury the ashes. Spring comes, and the family doesn’t call.
Perhaps the trauma is so great they have a reluctance to confront the issue or maybe they just don’t want to collect them? The Funeral Directors starts on their next client and the urn sits on the shelf. Maybe the family moves and leaves no forwarding address. Sometimes the Funeral Director reads an obituary in the newspaper and learns the surviving spouse had died.
Some Funeral Directors have to plan extra space to house the unclaimed urns or move them if they change premises. The carefully labelled precious but forgotten vessels sat awaiting their owners.
And what is the legal position? Here’s the official wording:
However, s 54 of the Act also deals explicitly with funeral directors who have collected ashes from the cremation authority, yet the applicant has failed to collect the ashes (within the specified time) from the funeral director. Again the funeral director must take reasonable steps to find out what the applicant wants here (for example, is the applicant going to collect the ashes or should the funeral director return them to the cremation authority). If there is no response, the funeral director can return the ashes to the cremation authority under s 54(6). The onus then goes back to the cremation authority (under s 55) to ascertain the applicant’s wishes, and (failing that) to retain or dispose of the ashes.
But Funeral Directors and Crematoria often house them for years just in case they are ever claimed.
We shall come back to this subject.