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Lewis & Clark County considering changes to indigent burials

Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 22:00:07-04

Lewis and Clark County leaders are considering changing their policies on how to handle burials, when they cannot reach any family members of the person who has died.

The Lewis and Clark County commission will vote Tuesday on whether to repeal the county’s “indigent burial policy.”

The county sheriff-coroner’s office is responsible for the burial of people without the means to pay. Remains are interred at the county cemetery off McHugh Drive in the Helena Valley.

“In our role, we try to contact any relatives,” said Sheriff-Coroner Leo Dutton. “We also are very respectful of the deceased person and their remains. We would like them to be handled by a relative, but oftentimes no one comes forward, so we do everything we can to give them a proper burial.”

Currently, the county has different procedures for handling “abandoned” bodies – where there are family members, but none come forward to pay funeral costs – and “indigent” – where the county certifies the person had no relatives and no money for burial costs.

Dutton said having those two options has caused confusion in some cases. Now, they plan to treat abandoned and indigent deaths in the same way.

“This is a good move to get us more efficient and avoid some of the process and arguing about who’s going to pay and those kind of things,” said Dutton.

Dutton said there hasn’t been much difference in the actual handling of remains for abandoned burials and indigent burials.

Capt. Brent Colbert of the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office said authorities will still have to determine whether someone is indigent. In those cases, the county attorney’s office is responsible for disposing of the person’s property – and possibly using some proceeds from that property to reimburse some of the burial costs.

Dutton noted that, once someone has been buried in the county cemetery, any family members that come forward afterwards aren’t able to claim the remains.