Unclaimed remains: Funeral homes hang onto forgotten urns

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - A funeral home is a place to celebrate lives and mourn deaths. And, ultimately it's where you say your last goodbyes. But, what happens when someone doesn't finish the job? "Ohhh I probably have some urns here that have bee...

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - A funeral home is a place to celebrate lives and mourn deaths. And, ultimately it's where you say your last goodbyes.

But, what happens when someone doesn't finish the job?

"Ohhh I probably have some urns here that have been here for twenty years," Chuck Standal of West-Kjos Funeral Home in Detroit Lakes said. "It's hard to understand why people wouldn't claim them."

The home has several urns that were left and forgotten. The ashes are not up on a mantle, not spread out into the world and not buried.

But instead they are collecting dust in the garage cupboard at the funeral home.

"Its hard to understand why, why people wouldn't claim them," Standal said.

This may seem like a dark, kind of depressing discovery. But it's worse when you learn how common it actually is. People are forgetting, or just choosing not to pick up the urns.

"I would say that any funeral home you talk to probably has their 10 to 20 urns or Cremains that are in their possession that they've had for a number of years," Standal explained.

Which is true for Wright Funeral home in Moorhead, they've held onto some cremated remains for almost fifty years.

"They've been there as long as I've been here like I said I've been here since '83 and we have some cremated remains that have been here since then," Steve Wright of Wright Funeral Home said. "So, they are just part of the place."

But, why and how can someone forget about their loved one sitting in a jar in the basement?

"I'm not sure why people think the process is complete. They just maybe don't know what to do next," Standal said.

So, he tries to help them with that next step.

"Every spring we try to contact people. Some we don't make contact with, some we talk to every year and urge them to come in and receive them into their care, but for some reason or another it doesn't happen," Standal added.

Maybe it's a fear of bad timing.

"The last thing you wanna do is dispose of cremated remains and the next week have someone come look for them," Wright said.

According to a Minnesota statute, Funeral homes do have the right to hold a burial for the forgotten remains.

"There's just something about that doesn't seem quite right to me," Standal said.

According to the Cremation Association of North American, more than half of all funeral arrangements are cremations, and trends show that number is growing.