The Danville Register & Bee recently reported there are as many as 15 plastic grey boxes with the cremated remains of the unclaimed sitting in a storage cupboard of a funeral home. Ever thought about it? What happens when someone dies, can’t pay for the cost, and any family they have refuses to claim their loved one because of the financial responsibility. It happens. From time to time I get a listing from a funeral home of someone and then it just disappears. State law requires the police to take responsibility of an unclaimed body after 10 days. Danville has a dozen cases a year, on average and in the end, the remains might end up on the storage shelf at the funeral home on the chance of family member might show up eventually.
In Martinsville, managing this responsibility falls on Sandy Hines, Lieutenant of Criminal Investigations. He tells me there are two or three unclaimed bodies on average every year in Martinsville. After efforts to find the family have been exhausted, Eric Monday, the city attorney, is notified and he obtains a court order from the Circuit Court Judge to have the remains cremated. A local funeral home is then contracted to do the cremation and the city pays the bill.
Sheriff Lane Perry says basically the same thing happens in Henry County. His department tries to find the family. If that fails, or if the family refuses to claim the body, George Lyle, county attorney, takes over. Lane didn’t have any numbers, but noted for Henry County an unclaimed body was “not a common occurrence.”
Regardless, it’s a sad situation when a person lives a life and dies unclaimed. As much as you might want to avoid thinking about it, think about it anyway. Managing your life well also requires managing your death. If it’s something you haven’t done, do it. As a person who once sold life insurance, I used to ask prospective clients if they knew what were their chances of dying. Surprisingly, most of the time the answer was “I don’t know.”