County seeking ways to pay for cremation costs of unclaimed deceased individuals who leave behind property

(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission yesterday met with the Fremont County Coroner and local funeral home directors to discuss how to handle payment for services for unclaimed deceased individuals. The primary problem, mentioned by many, is what to do when the individual has known family who refuse to claim the body but don’t mind claiming the person’s belongings.

By statute, Coroner Ed McAuslan said, his office has to ensure proper care of unclaimed bodies. The local funeral homes reportedly charge $1,800 at a minimum for cremation and related costs. Cemetery costs are not included, which is reportedly leading to quite a storehouse of urns in the Coroner’s Office. Families who want to claim the ashes have to pay the county for associated costs.

At one point in time, the Coroner’s Office would seize a deceased individual’s property for use to pay for funeral home costs should no one claim the body. However, McAuslan said state statutes make it unclear what his office may seize, and the County Attorney’s Office has advised his office to not take items that are not directly on the body.

Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said he didn’t think it was right that taxpayers should have to pay for costs that most families take responsibility for themselves. Commissioner Travis Becker said it shows a “real sad state of society” that people would not claim family member’s bodies but expect to be able to take their belongings. Both McAuslan and some of the funeral home representatives believe that some people are gaming the system.

There was also some discussion about how the county or funeral homes might legally compel next of kin to pay for costs with property acquired from the deceased. The county accepts that when an individual has no family or friends and leaves behind nothing to pay for funeral costs, costs must be dealt with.

Ultimately, the County Attorney’s Office was directed to look into the probate process that the county could enter into to acquire a deceased individual’s possessions to pay for costs, including when family refuses to claim bodies but take property. The county agreed to go ahead and pay the funeral homes for four out-standing cases. Commissioner Stephanie Kessler also suggested asking for local legislators for help in drafting bills that might clarify the situation for all involved.