If family cannot be found, can a friend claim someone's remains?

Augustadematto asked...

Hello. Two days ago, a close friend of mine passed away from cancer. His emergency contact was his old work place. He hasn't bothered with his family for a long time, and we can't seem to find anyone who knows him other than us, or anyone who knows family. Someone had brought it to my attention that one of his friends might be able to claim his ashes. We live in Philadelphia, PA. Is there any law that states whether we can or cannot claim his remains?

Expert Answer

Rebekah Peoples, CFSP, CPC, Is a licensed funeral director and embalmer. She is passionate about serving others and believes that giving clients honest, accurate information empowers them to create tributes and services that are meaningful and appropriate.

This is a good question but I'm a little unclear about a couple of things. First I'm not sure who the "us" is that you're referring to. Are they and you part of the "old workplace" that you mention? As far as any family members not being known, the state of Pennsylvania laws require that a family member sign legal authorizations for a person to be cremated. The only exception would be if the person stipulated in his will that he wanted to be cremated and specified an agent acting on his behalf to authorize it legally. All of that therefore, means that he was not cremated unless someone met that criteria. That person would be the one who has the legal right to custody of his cremated body. Friends would not be able to claim his remains unless that legal representative gave permission in writing for them to be given to someone else.

Call the funeral home that's handling his arrangements and they will be able to give you some information about whether he was cremated and if family members were involved. Since you have an interest in receiving his ashes, you might want to suggest that to the funeral director. You may also suggest out of the same respect for him, that you and his former co-workers would like to coordinate or attend a service in his memory. This can be done, but doesn't have to, at the funeral home. It may just be a small gathering of friends to share words of comfort and some good memories.

How nice that you feel a connection to him. It's often said that one's co-workers are frequently as close, or closer, than family.