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What happens when no one claims a body? County officials step up

County of Wellington is responsible for handling funeral and burial services for local municipalities when others don't
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Unclaimed by family or friends, county officials were responsible for the funeral and burial of four deceased people last year.

In each case the deceased was provided with a “simple but dignified” service and buried in a local cemetery – their final resting place identified with a gravestone marker.

“That is quite typical,” Stuart Beumer, the county’s director of Ontario Works, said of the annual quantity of instances when that happens. “In most cases, there is someone involved to make the arrangements and we work with them.”

Providing a funeral and burial for unclaimed bodies is among the social services contracted out to the County of Wellington by area municipalities, including the City of Guelph, which are legally responsible for handling them under provincial legislation.

“It’s all fairly simple but dignified, respecting both their cultural and religious preferences,” Beumer said. “When we’re involved and its public funds, it’s a more basic, straight-forward service.”

Most of the time there are family, friends and others who attend, Beumer noted, even if they’re unable to claim the body and cover the cost of services.

“We, of course, wait for direction from the coroner’s office that services can proceed. We then work with the funeral home and cemetery and make arrangements.”

Funeral homes and cemeteries are obligated to provide services when directed by the county to do so. Those services come with capped fees, Beumer said.

“There is a requirement, legally on their behalf, to work with us,” he said. “We’re really fortunate that we’ve had great working relationships with, in particular, cemetery providers.”

Typically, a deceased person’s spouse, or parents in the case of a minor, is responsible for handling funeral expenses and the cost of burial or cremation, though the Anatomy Act states it can be done by “a relative for disposition or by any other person who gives an undertaking to dispose of the body.”

In cases where the person’s last address is known or county officials are aware if that person had a particular connection to a community as a resident, efforts are made to conduct the service and burial in that area, Beumer said.

If not, that’s typically done in Guelph.

Far more often the county provided financial assistance with funeral service and burial costs. There were 66 instances of that happening last year, with varying degrees of aid.

“If they don’t have sufficient funds available … they can apply to the county to receive assistance,” Beumer said. “Our local funeral homes are well aware of the assistance provided and often are able to flag those situations for those involved to contact us.”

In such cases, he explained the county works with the deceased person’s loved ones to assess what finances are available and pursue funds to help as well, such as the Canada Pension Death Benefit and provincial programs.


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Richard Vivian

About the Author: Richard Vivian

Richard Vivian is an award-winning journalist and longtime Guelph resident. He joined the GuelphToday team as assistant editor in 2020, largely covering municipal matters and general assignment duties
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