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What happens to unclaimed ashes?

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.


6 thoughts on “What happens to unclaimed ashes?

  1. Reply
    ellie - 5th July 2023

    My mum refuses to collect my dads ashes – but she has the right to make this decision as she signed the contract with the director. This was many years ago and I am now only old enough to act on this, can I collect them instead as they remained unclaimed. Also, how can I found out if they were collected? Thanks so much for your help about this delicate subject.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 6th July 2023

      Dear Ellie
      The funeral director is likely to be lenient on this now a number of years have passed, phone and ask. They will know if they have been collected already or if they were returned to the crematoria. They may not be able to tell you who has collected them, if somebody has.

      I hope you manage to get this sorted.

      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Rach - 14th August 2022

    I have no one to collect my ashes can the crematorium scatter me instead carrying out wishes to be scattered in the woods.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 26th August 2022

      Hi Rach
      You should put your request in your will and leave financial provision for someone to do this on your behalf.
      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    F. Williams - 18th December 2020

    I wish to be cremated but do not wish for my ashes to be given back to my family. Please let me know what crematoria do with ashes that are not wished to be claimed.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 18th December 2020

      This need to be made very clear to the executor and the funeral director. You need to be clear what you want to happen to them. If not and a relative pays for the funeral they will collect the ashes.

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