Who gets Grandpa?
August 21, 2006 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Do you have to claim the body of a deceased family member?

I have no idea why this came up in conversation, but it did...

Suppose a family is having serious financial troubles. Suppose, then, that a member dies outside the home (hit by a car, suicide, etc.) Knowing that going through the traditional, multi-thousand-dollar scenario of embalming, funeral, grave/crypt/cremation, may well drain the family finances (even if there was some life insurance), could the family simply opt not to claim the body and walk away? Or does the fact of familial relationship legally obligate them to claim the body and, thus, pay for it's disposal?

Kind of morbid, I know.
posted by Thorzdad to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no idea why this came up in conversation, but it did...

Did the people you were talking with just watch Little Miss Sunshine by any chance?
posted by aubilenon at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2006

Couldn't you donate the body to a medical school?
posted by Sara Anne at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: Did the people you were talking with just watch Little Miss Sunshine by any chance?
L. I have no idea. There was Guinness involved, though...

Couldn't you donate the body to a medical school?
Hadn't thought of that. But, that doesn't really answer the original question.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2006

The county coroner is a government service; you pay with your taxes. Otherwise, that's it, you are not liable for the debts of your kin except insofar as they decrease your expected inheritance.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2006

The estate of the deceased is responsible. If there is no estate then local authorities pick up the tab.
posted by Mitheral at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2006

I believe that when my mother died and I was notified I could have refused. The authorities would keep trying to find a next of kin though, no?

Further, for what it's worth - it doesn't have to be a multi-thousand dollar affair. The industry just makes you think that. Biggest. Racket. Ever.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2006

I'm pretty sure that if folks aren't claimed, they are buried at a graveyard for indigent folks, most commonly known as Potters Field.

Upside: Free.

Downsides: No marker, no funeral home visitation by friends and loved one, no chance for a graveside eulogy, you might not even be able to find out precisely where grandpa spends eternity, depending upon the size the cemetery, local authorities may later pursue for costs (after all, they aren't gonna let the deceased lie around indefinitely while arguing the finances).

The social stigma accompanying such treatment of a (presumably) loved one may or may not bother you.
posted by Mutant at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: Biggest. Racket. Ever.
Agreed wholeheartedly. Not sure how to avoid it, though. Even a cremation has to filter through the funeral homes. At least around here, they do, it seems.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:56 PM on August 21, 2006

You may be interested in watching "A Certain Kind of Death". It's not without its flaws (i thought the narrative was poorly structured), but it addresses this topic somewhat (more from the institutional side -- what happens when next of kind can't be found?*).

* answer: if you don't have enough assets or any sort of funeral plan, you get cremated and eventually uncermoniously dumped in a mass grave containing all the other unclaimed ashes that died that year. upside: there is at least a year marker.
posted by fishfucker at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2006

This came up in an AP item not too long ago:

Counties, funeral directors deal with unclaimed bodies

My favorite graf:
At first the woman claimed she couldn't afford it, but when Wackerly pressed her, she acknowledged that there was insurance money, but that her family didn't like the mother-in-law and hoped to use the cash to remodel their kitchen.
For Ohio, at least, however:
"When people walk away, they aren't avoiding a legal obligation, just a moral obligation," said Scott Gilligan, an attorney with the Ohio Funeral Directors Association.
posted by mph at 1:29 PM on August 21, 2006

"A Certain Kind of Death"

I really really liked that film. I still think about it, the same way I still think about certain horror films.

Check out some of the stats on green funerals.
posted by mattbucher at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2006

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