Destitute funerals

A destitute person is a deceased person with no money or assets and whose friends and relatives are unable to pay the cost of the burial or cremation.

Although there is no legal obligation on next of kin to arrange for or pay for the funeral of a deceased relative, they are obliged to provide personal details of the deceased to the contracted funeral director so that the death can be registered. If no next of kin are available, any person may give this information (for example, hospital staff from Clinical Records).

NSW Health directs that cremation be the preferred method of disposal provided that:

  • there is no objection to cremation in the deceased’s will
  • any relatives or friends agree to cremation in writing
  • there are no contrary directions by the State Coroner
  • all necessary cremation certificates are completed.

See NSW Health Policy Directive PD2008_012 Destitute Persons – Cremation or Burial.

When the deceased has no money or assets and no-one is prepared to make arrangements or pay for a funeral, and they did not die in a hospital, and it is not a coroner’s case the police submit Form P372 Burial/Cremation of a deceased destitute person form to the Director of the Public Health Unit of the relevant Local Health District. They in turn complete Form Health 373 which authorises the government contractor (the funeral company contracted to the government) to arrange a cremation or burial.

If the death occurred in a public hospital and a death certificate was issued, and the deceased had no assets and no family able to pay for the funeral, the cost of the funeral is the responsibility of the hospital. The hospital is required to make all reasonable inquiries to try and locate any relatives, friends or members of organisations who may wish to arrange for a burial or cremation. The police can be approached to assist with locating family or friends willing to pay for the cost of a funeral, and also to help in determining whether the deceased has any assets or estate.

In coroner’s cases where no next of kin can be found who are willing to make funeral arrangements, the family can seek the assistance of the counsellors at the Department of Forensic Medicine to arrange a destitute funeral. Police submit Form 373 to the coroner who in turn issues an Order of Disposal of a Destitute Person to the appropriate Public Health Unit. The Public Health Unit completes Form Health 373 requesting a burial and cremation from the contracted funeral director who then forwards his invoice to the Public Health Unit for payment. The next of kin can claim the ashes. A contractor may arrange a burial as an alternative to cremation if requested by the deceased’s next of kin.

The government contractor’s responsibilities

The government contractor is responsible for:

  • providing the casket (constructed according to specifications in the contract)
  • covering the remains of the deceased in a white calico shroud before placing them in the casket
  • arranging the opening and closing of the grave for a burial
  • arranging for a minister to attend
  • providing a hearse to take the body to the cemetery
  • providing the ordering authority with a certified notice of the grave number and section or location of the ashes

Attendance by relatives

NSW Health has a policy of notifying any known relatives of the funeral arrangements and encouraging their attendance – NSW Health Policy directive PD 2008_012. Next of kin can get information about the funeral from the government contractor in their area. Either the hospital or the officer in charge at the police station can provide the name and address of the contractor.

If the deceased is to be buried it will be in an unmarked common grave. A ‘common’ grave is one that will contain at least one other body, and no permanent mark will be left at the site identifying who is buried there. However, the grave will have a number so that it can be identified. Mourners can attend a destitute funeral but should be aware that more than one burial may be taking place at the same time.

If a cremation is performed the ashes will be placed in an urn and stored if not claimed.