Dead, poor, and alone: what happens to unclaimed and indigent bodies in Bay County?

Unclaimed Deaths in the Area
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:39 PM CDT
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Most hope when they die, they’ll be memorialized at a service, surrounded by grieving loved ones. But that isn’t the case for everyone.

Every year in Bay County, dozens of bodies go unclaimed.

“Some people are either unclaimed because they don’t have any family or friends who come forward to claim their remains or maybe because they do have some family members but they’re indigent and can’t particularly afford to pay for the cremation,” Valerie Sale, Communications Director for Bay County, said.

So far this year, there have been 82 indigent cremations. In 2021, there were 121. Each costs $750 in taxpayers’ money.

“So you know for ‘21, we had a cost roughly $90,000 this pay for all the folks who passed away,” Sale said.

There are a handful of local funeral homes working with the county to properly handle the deceased.

But not everyone goes completely unclaimed. Of the 203 unclaimed from 2021 until now, 125 were claimed by an indigent person.

“If they have some family members who come forward but can’t afford to pay the cost of that cremation then they have the opportunity to submit evidence to the county of that,” Sale said. “The funeral home can release the remains to them at no charge.”

The medical examiner’s office holds all unclaimed bodies for up to five days, attempting to locate next of kin before calling on one of the funeral homes to take over from there.

Under Florida law, cremains not claimed within four months will be properly disposed of.

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