How long can remains stay at the funeral home before another can pick them up?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 12, 2016
Perkincd asked...

My brother died 6 months ago and his wife has not picked up his remains. When can they be released to another family member such as his mother ? She states she has no money to properly bury the ashes. I have asked her many times why and she states that she just does not have the money. I read that after 120 days it is up to the Funeral homes discretion . We live in New York State.

Expert Answers

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. Her tips about funerals and life can be found at

Please accept my condolences on your brother's death. Brothers have a special relationship with us like no other.

There are a couple of issues in your question. In New York, when the person is making the funeral arrangements, usually the next of kin, they must sign a form called the Designation of Intentions. This form designates what this person is going to do with the cremated body, such as burial or scattering. It also names who the cremated body will be given to if the funeral home is not going to be part of that disposition. Your brother's wife probably listed herself as the person to receive his ashes. As such, she can go to the funeral home and get them to take home. They don't have to be buried right away and she can do that when she does have the money. That's the best option since she signed the form and is the next of kin.

As for the New York law, it does state that the funeral home can bury or scatter them if the cremated remains are still at the funeral home after 120 days. The funeral home however, cannot do this without first contacting the family, giving them the opportunity to pick them up. After that letter is sent out, the funeral home must wait 30 days to give the next of kin a chance to respond. You mentioned it's been six months, which is around 180 days so it is past the legal requirement. There's a chance that the funeral home has already made other arrangements, but they would have had to notify his wife first in accordance with the required 30 day notice mentioned above.

Hopefully, when you give this information to his wife, she will contact the funeral home and arrange to get his cremated remains and bring them home. The burial can be done at a later time when funds are available.

Community Answers

Ed markin answered...

We would like to add our condolences on the loss of your brother. Ms Peoples' response is spot on. The wife cites lack of funds as the prime reason she hasn't picked up the remains. First you need to find out what is owed, Then ask the funeral home what is the disposition of the ashes (some will continue to hold them well past the required time limit if they know someone in the family is making an effort). Then contact the Social Services (not Social Security) Office nearest your brother's home and ask about New York's Indigent Burial Fund to learn what, if anything, is available in the way of funds. Next, go to and contact the chapter nearest to your brother, tell them the situation and see if they can help. Since your brother died with a dependent (wife) he should be entitled to $255 from his Social Security. Add this to whatever you can raise and make the funeral home an offer; they may, at their discretion, release the remains to a family member for less than the total owed. It's worth a shot.

Ca-claire answered...

So sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. Being a widow myself, I was really shocked after the unexpected death of my husband as to what happens money wise. I knew about our debt, I knew some about Social Security, I knew some about the military pension (I am second wife, and first wife was married to him for entire military career), and there are so many things that have to happen besides the death and funeral expenses. It has taken me nearly 4 years to dig out, and be close to on a steady financial standing, and that is with me having a full time job for most of my life.

Each of us experience grief differently, and being a widow means tough decisions have to be made. Depression, often extreme sets in, and is a difficult cycle to break, along with all the grieving that goes along with losing a loved one and partner. Sometimes the middle of the night silence, or the empty spot on the other side of the bed gets overwhelming.

It's possible that your sister-in-law just doesn't really realize how much time has passed, she may be afraid of being criticized for being disrespectful of your brother's cremains. She may not believe in cremation herself, but your brother wanted it. There are so many different things which could be causing her to be 'stuck'.

If you have the financial means, offer to cover the cremation expenses, and a reasonably priced urn for your brothers ashes. I have my Mother's ashes in a very pretty printed 'scattering' tube, waiting for Dad to pass on, so that we scatter their ashes in a family ceremony somewhere that there are happy memories.

Wishing you the best in this difficult circumstance Perkincd.

Btgarcia answered...

My father dies Sept 2014 and my mother who was separated at the time and has requested his ashes for burial at Arlington national cemetery however the funeral home wants a fourth order since my sister and my dad's mother want his remains. My mother even though she was sperated was still legally married to my dad . It's been a struggle to get his remains and seems like the judge doesn't symphasize with my mother nor does the funeral home.

Chinquipin answered...

My mother just passed today. Her birthday is 4/14. My 91 year old father, 2 out of 3 sisters and all grand and great grand children feel this would be so right. Ashes to ashes, birth to death. How do we console the out sister who says it is to long to wait. FYI Catholic (mostly), whole immediate family was just here 3/20. And now will turn around and drive 2 states respectively to return for the funeral.