Indigent Deaths

The effects of the economic recession have reached every aspect of society—especially the less than fortunate. Across the United States the number of government-funded indigent burials is on the rise. The reasons are as complicated as they are vast, however many believe it is because those relatives who may have paid for funeral costs in the past simply can no longer afford to do so.

New Jersey is one of 36 states that leave the burial of unclaimed remains to its counties, townships or cities. All counties are responsible to pay burial costs of indigent, unidentified or unclaimed deceased individuals who resided within their borders prior to death, regardless of the county where the death occurred.

The Law

According to N.J.S.A. 40A:9-49.1, should an indigent person die without a surviving spouse, parent  or emancipated child, their resident county must pay all “necessary and reasonable” burial costs. The statute defines “indigent decedent” as one who dies without leaving an “ascertainable estate sufficient to pay part or all of the person’s burial expenses and whose burial expenses are not payable by the State. (See “Public Assistance” for more information.)

Further, N.J.S.A. 44:4-118 states that when a person dies “without leaving sufficient funds to defray their funeral expenses,” the county must “employ some person to provide for and superintend the burial of the deceased person” and pay all “necessary and reasonable expenses.”


Each New Jersey County sets its own indigent funeral reimbursement rate. Some jurisdictions put money aside each year to cover these costs, and the amounts vary from county to county. 

When an indigent death occurs, the County the decedent resided in is the entity responsible for the burial if the costs are not covered by another State or Federal program.  The local medical examiner, hospital or nursing home usually contacts the county’s burial coordinator to make the arrangements for indigent burials.

Federal Government Role

The federal government has only one role in the disposition of the unclaimed dead: The Department of Veteran Affairs will arrange burials for the bodies of unclaimed qualifying veterans in a national military cemetery. See “Veterans” section for more information.