What Happens When a Loved One Dies in Prison?

What Happens When a Loved One Dies in Prison?Funeral planning isn’t a positive experience in the best of circumstances—so when you add a complicated legal or personal situation, things have a way of becoming even more difficult and emotional.

One scenario that few people anticipate having to navigate is how to take care of the deceased when he or she passes away in a government institution like jail. However, this type of situation can and does happen, and there are options for families who wish to reclaim the deceased’s body for a personalized burial.

The Death Care Industry and Prison

In many cases, inmates who face a long time in prison—or who are otherwise in a situation in which death has a reasonable chance of occurring while they are incarcerated—make a will or other advance plans for death. Because they are already firmly in the legal system and have had contact with a lawyer, they may have been encouraged to draft a will that indicates where and how their body will be interred.

Popular among these options are programs that allow inmates to donate their bodies to science and other organizations. Because these are a donation program, there is no additional cost to the deceased’s family or estate, making it ideal when funeral costs are an issue.

What Happens When a Loved One Dies in Prison?

However, the lack of personalization of this type of scenario can be hard on families, which is why it’s important to have conversations with your loved ones ahead of time. If you can’t afford a funeral after death occurs, you may be able to work out an advance funeral pre-plan with a local funeral home or even discuss alternate options with a lawyer.

Families Getting Involved in the Funeral Planning

Individuals who die while incarcerated can be buried and given a funeral much like any other person who passes away. An immediate family member, spouse, or otherwise authorized person may claim the body and assume responsibility for the costs and process of funeral planning.

If you wish to access your loved one’s medical records and personal belongings, and if you want to have a say in how he or she is buried, it’s a good idea to notify the authorities that you intend to take over the funeral planning process as soon as you hear of the passing.

If family members are unable to pay for the funeral, the body will be treated according to county regulations. This might mean direct burial or cremation, or even the donation of the body to science. It is important to note that when you sign over the rights of burial to the department of corrections, you typically waive all rights to your say in the funeral plans as well as your access to his or her belongings.


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