What Happens to Unclaimed Ashes?

by K-Berens
A tombstone under a tree at a cemetery

Funeral home go to great lengths to find families of the deceased whose cremated remains are unclaimed. Often remains are scattered or interred at local cemeteries in a dignified and caring way if remains are left unclaimed for more than five years.

Funeral industry experts estimate that the remains of roughly one percent or up to 10,000 people cremated within the United States are unclaimed.

There are many different reasons why ashes are not claimed, most often it is because funeral homes are unable to find contact information for family members, especially if the person was homeless or had no family members living in the area. Some ashes are simply unclaimed due to people not returning to funeral homes to claim the remains because the convenience of cremation means their isn’t any urgency to inter the ashes as there is with a traditional burial. Funeral home directors often cite the fact that many people feel that in claiming the ashes they have to confront the finality of death.

Some funeral homes have remains that have been unclaimed for more than fifty years and most funeral homes have a room where unclaimed ashes are stored. Funeral homes have gone to great lengths to find families, advertising in newspapers and even knocking on doors in hopes of finding someone who knew the deceased. Recently guidelines set forth by the National Association of Funeral Directors now require funeral homes to store unclaimed ashes for five years before they are responsible for disposing the ashes. This includes the scattering of the remains or interring them in a local cemetery.

New legislation in some states across the country is making great strides to care for these remains in a dignified and respectful way. “The Missing In America Project” was created to locate and identify unclaimed cremated remains of American veteran and to inter their ashes in a dignified way. To date, the organization has visited over 1200 funeral homes and identified 1,600 veterans and almost 1,500 of them have been interred.

One community organization in Missouri has recently constructed a columbarium in an area of a local cemetery which is dedicated to the interment of unclaimed ashes. Above the entrance to the new columbarium is etched in the stone, “To Honor The Forgotten Entombed Herein And Exemplify Our Doctrine To Bury The Dead”.┬áThe Odd Fellows Columbarium was funded by the Grand Lodge of Missouri, Independent Order of Odd Fellows and was designed to hold the remains of up to 12,000 people. The Wildey Cemetery in Washington, Missouri estimates that the remains of 7,000 Missourians are unclaimed by family or friends every year. The group plans to contact funeral homes across the state to let them know that unclaimed ashes can be sent for a dignified interment at the new columbarium. Extensive records will be kept of all known information of the deceased and their family.


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