Is someone with no family states in their will that they want to be cremated, but they don't specify what is to be done with the ashes or remains, what happens to the remains? Are they still put in some kind of urn, and where does it end up being kept? Thanks

Hi Lee,

What happens varies from State to State, crematory to crematory, and person to person. That said, upon cremation, a crematory always places cremated remains in a "temporary container" and releases the remains to a person authorized to receive them. According to industry statistics, too many of those end up being permanent, but that's another story.

If there's no statement made about the disposition of the cremated remains (that are personal property) and no family member or other person legally authorized to make that decision, the Executor of the Will is the most likely one who'll be tasked with the choice. Again, this may vary from State to State, as states vary in their rules about what the crematory must do with both claimed and unclaimed cremated remains. Within those rules, crematory policies may differ, as well.

The best thing for someone with no family to do is STILL plan, write down their plans, and make it easy on everyone else by having a key-person know where those are. Again, the Executor of the Will - and perhaps this is the attorney - might be the person with whom to have this conversation, and the Will may or may not be the place for it.

I hope that helped. (And if it's you, please go to and download the free Natural Funeral Planner on the site, fill it out, and add it to your file!!)




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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and over a decade of running the Natural Burial Company, founded in 2004. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions, and I own two historic cemeteries the feature natural burial, based in Oregon.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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