A Kansas City Star article reported on the role of the Missing in Action Project in getting Major Rombauer to his final resting place. Much of the work of the MIA Project goes unreported, but this story was found noteworthy because Major Rombauer’s cremains had been sitting on a shelf at the crematory for 102 years. All too often our country’s veterans are denied the final act of respect, and instead of a burial or interment, their cremated remains are never claimed from the funeral home or crematory. “Abandoned cremains” can pose various legal problems for the funeral home or crematory when their authorization forms do not address the right of sepulcher and when ‘abandonment’ occurs.
The right of sepulcher is a quasi property right that each person has with regard to how his or her remains are to be handled. We each can make a written designation of the right of sepulcher, or in the absence of such a designation, the right of sepulcher passes to family members. When cremation is chosen, the right of sepulcher is not competed until the cremains are delivered back to the individual who originally authorized the disposition. But cremation authorization forms frequently do not address when cremains are abandoned, and how the cremains are to be handled when abandonment occurs. It is unfortunate, but family disputes often occur over the final disposition of a loved one’s cremains. Litigation exposures do cause some cremains to sit on the shelf for years, and after a period of time, to go forgotten.