COLUMBUS - It's a somber thought to consider, but the cold reality is that sometimes a person passes away with no friends or family to step forward and take care of their remains. At Monday's meeting, the Board of Cherokee County Commissioners agreed to take care of an indigent burial for an individual who recently passed away at a local nursing home.

"It's our duty to bury the dead when there's no family," Chairman Pat Collins said.

Indigent refers to someone who is considered “poor”, “needy” or “poverty-stricken”. Kansas changed their indigent burial assistance program in 2010, and there is now no state support. This means that the various counties are under no legal obligation to help the poor pay for burial expenses, however according to state law, counties are responsible for paying for the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies. Each county has to deal with the disposal of unclaimed bodies as a health issue.

Like most states, Kansas has adopted relatively specific laws governing the status, control and disposition of dead bodies of human beings. The provisions of K.S.A. 65-904 and 65-1734 cover most situations. If a family member or friend claims the body within 72 hours of death, the body is delivered to that person or agent. In the rare case of multiple people trying to control the disposition of the body, K.S.A. 65-1734 specifies the order of priority for the person authorized to control the disposition of the body. Interestingly, a holder of a durable power of attorney for health care decisions has priority over all others, including the spouse or child of the decedent, if that power was specifically granted to the attorney in fact.

If no-one steps forward to claim the body, K.S.A. 65-904 requires the person or persons in charge of the deceased at the time of death to make, “…diligent search for relatives or friends.” If there is no response to the search within 96 hours after the commencement of such search, the body is treated as unclaimed. As an unclaimed body, the county official responsible for dealing with corpses.

When the corpse would be buried at county expense or in a pauper’s grave, K.S.A. 65-902a requires the county official or coroner to notify the anatomy department at the University of Kansas Medical School and advise the School of the existence of the corpse. The anatomy department has 36 hours to claim the body. The anatomy department will pay any costs for transportation if they claim the body. If the anatomy department claims the body, K.S.A. 65-904 further requires the department to not dissect the body for 60 days. During those 60 days, any relative or friend may claim the body for internment. If the department does not respond to the county within 48 hours, their rights to the corpse are waived.