A death is always a tragic time for the deceased person’s surviving family members and friends. But what happens if someone dies alone, with no contactable next of kin? In such cases, the local council of the city, town or village in which the person died will step in to take care of funeral arrangements and handle their estate.
Public health funerals
When a person passes away with no known surviving relatives or friends, the council will conduct a public health funeral for them, sometimes known as a “pauper’s funeral”. This option is also open to those whose families cannot afford to pay for a funeral, and the number of such funerals taking place has risen significantly in recent years. At present, approximately 4,000 people are buried or cremated by the council every year.
Public health funerals are simple services which include a coffin and a funeral director to oversee the burial or cremation. However, other items such as flowers, obituaries, transportation for attendees and headstones are not included. Indeed, in certain regions of the UK where space is at a premium, the deceased will be buried in a mass grave with no marker to commemorate their burial.
Who pays for the funeral?
Upon discovery of the body, the relevant authorities will attempt to contact the person’s family, spouse, civil partner, or next of kin. In the event that they do not have one, the council will take control of proceedings and subtract the cost of the funeral from the deceased’s estate. In cases where the deceased does not have any capital or not enough to cover the costs of the funeral, the council will foot the bill. These funerals reputedly cost local authorities an estimated £4 million per year.
In public health funerals, the date and time of the service, as well as the choice of funeral directors, are at the discretion of the council. One way for a person to control various aspects of their funeral (including location, manner and participating funeral director) as well as to avoid the costs falling to the council is to take out a prepaid funeral plan, which allows them to choose and pay for their funeral before their death.
The deceased’s estate
When handling the deceased’s estate, the council review their will and try to contact any surviving members. If no will is present, the rules of intestacy apply and their estate will fall to their next of kin in a specific and predetermined order. Intestacy rules indicate that in the event that no next of kin can be found, the council will take possession of the estate. Monies will first be subtracted to cover the cost of the funeral, before the remainder will be held by the council.
Councils all over the UK receive thousands of Freedom of Information requests every year regarding those who have died with no family. While they will usually supply details such as their full name, date of death, marital status and last known address, they may withhold others to prevent the risk of fraud. Indeed, they may not disclose the last known address if this was not a care home, and are not likely to disclose their maiden name, date of birth or the value of their estate. This is to prevent criminal activity from taking place.