This is kind of a morbid question, but I'm writing a story where a homeless teenager from Seattle winds up dead in Portland, Oregon. She is identified eventually, but she has no legal guardian, living relatives or close friends.

My question is: what would they do with the body? I figured that cremation would be the most likely, but where would the remains go? Would they be sent back to Seattle or would they just scatter them somewhere in Oregon? Are there places where you put the ashes of a person who had no written wishes for what should happen to their remains?

Secondly, what would they do with any possessions she had on her person at the time of death, such as money, jewelry, clothing, or trinkets of sentimental, but no monetary value? I have a part in the story where a couple of characters have to find something she was carrying with her when she died, but long after any of the ordinary mysteries surrounding her death and identity were cleared up.


1 Answer 1


You may be interested in a recent New York Times article, "The Lonely Death of George Bell", which described in detail the case of a man who was found dead in his apartment (of natural causes). It took a long time for him to be positively identified, and no near relatives could be located.

Affairs were handled by a city official called a "public administrator". Bell's valuable possessions were sold at public auction and the funds added to his estate. Items of no significant value were discarded (a junk removal business was hired to clean out his apartment; a few items were kept by the workers). They did eventually find his will, and at least some of his heirs, so his estate went to them.

The public administrator had Bell cremated by a local crematorium, with the ashes stored permanently in their columbarium. The cost was paid out of Bell's estate. If he hadn't had any assets, or hadn't been positively identified, the article mentions that he would have been buried in a "potter's field" at the city's expense.

  • 1
    This is what most jurisdictions do.
    – gracey209
    Nov 16, 2015 at 15:15

You must log in to answer this question.