Funeral homes pay expenses for unclaimed bodies

Funeral homes pay expenses for unclaimed bodies
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Action news is always keeping an eye on your tax dollars.

We found that local funeral homes in Benton County are now picking up the tab for unclaimed bodies at the coroner's office.

Inside a closet at the coroner's office, there are dozens of people who died and were never claimed by a loved one. They're called indigents.

In Benton County, they're presenting the coroner with a sad, daunting challenge: tracking down family members, including some refusing to pay for burial costs.

"The communication has just picked up a hundredfold," said Benton County Coroner John Hansens.

Coroner John Hansens relies on better technology and better internet search tools. With the help of a volunteer, he is able to find families of unidentified remains more quickly. It's important to him to reunite families. And estranged or not, he says the reaction is always positive when delivering the news.

"Whether they got along when they were living or not, they still want to know the final resting place, they still want to have the remains returned," said Hansens.

And that is helping to keep the county's costs down. The tab for cremating unclaimed bodies is around 1,000 dollars. That's nearly double what it was just two years ago.

The coroner's office has a small yearly budget and can barely cover cost for two burials. When that money runs out, it's up to the tax payers to foot the bill. But that has all changed.

Because of an agreement with funeral homes, like this one behind me, the county is no longer held responsible.

They will front the burial expenses until family is located. Paying them back instead of the county. If they're never found, the funeral homes absorb the costs.

"We think it's good because in affect, the tax payers are not bearing the burden of the individuals now," said Hansens.