What Happens to Uncollected Ashes?
As cremation becomes a more popular option for families who have experienced a loss, funeral homes and crematories are seeing a rise in uncollected ashes. There are many different reasons for this. The most common reason is that cremation allows for more flexibility regarding a memorial service. Instead of having to rush to hold a funeral or burial, you can have a loved one cremated and wait until there is more time, more money, or more family members available to hold a service. And the easiest way to handle the remains is to let the crematory hold onto them until you are ready.
Of course, other issues also make it difficult to collect ashes, especially if you live far away from the deceased, if money is tight, or if there is a dispute over what to do with the ashes.
Although cremated remains do not take up much space and are easily transportable, there is a limit to how long a crematory will hold onto them—especially if they have limited storage space. In fact, uncollected ashes currently number more than two million urns in the United States alone, which takes up quite a bit of room overall.
How Long Can I Wait to Collect the Ashes?
Funeral homes and crematories will hold on to ashes for anywhere from 60 days up to four years, depending on where you live. Local laws and state mandates set the guidelines for this length of time, so you should check your city and state regulations to be sure. Once that deadline has been surpassed, the funeral director and/or crematory has the right to determine how much longer they are willing to hold on to the ashes. They may also charge storage fees should you wish to continue putting off your pickup date.
In almost all cases, communication with the funeral home or crematory is your best option for lengthening the amount of time you have to collect the ashes. They do not want to get rid of the ashes and would prefer to see them placed with family members who will care for them appropriately. Your willingness to work with them is always appreciated.
Where Do the Ashes Go?
Many funeral homes have not yet determined what to do with uncollected ashes, which means they are placed in a storage room (often located underground or at the back of the facility) for an unspecified amount of time. Because there are no national regulations or laws yet that dictate what must be done with these ashes, the hope is that someone will eventually come collect them.
Some funeral homes without storage space for this have developed systems in which they wait until the allotted time has passed, make efforts to contact the family, and then scatter the remains according to local guidelines. This is usually done to several urns at once, which means the ashes will be placed along with other unclaimed loved ones and disposed of that way. The area is unlikely to be marked, but they may make a note of it in case families want to visit at a later date.