4 Jun 2015

Hundreds of urns left unclaimed

10:10 am on 4 June 2015

A corporate liquidator is on a "personal crusade" to find homes for hundreds of urns that have been left unclaimed after an Auckland funeral home went out of business.

The wall of unclaimed ashes at J Weir & Co Funeral Directors in Onehunga.

The wall of unclaimed ashes at J Weir & Co Funeral Directors in Onehunga. Photo: SUPPLIED

J Weir & Co Funeral Directors published a listing yesterday calling on families of more than 200 cremated relatives to claim their loved ones.

The Onehunga business is closing its doors after 118 years in service, after racking up a debt of more than $100,000 from unpaid funeral fees.

This has left the liquidator with the job of tracking down families to pick up unclaimed ashes.

Victoria Toon

Victoria Toon Photo: Twitter/ Victoria Toon

Corporate Restructuring Ltd director Victoria Toon said her team has been putting together profiles of the deceased to help them find a contact.

"We have a wall. My staff call them 'The Wall People' and they've become quite attached to them because they know their histories."

She said it has been very distressing for her team trying to find the relatives of the deceased.

"They've had to compile a listing of their contact details and any relevant information to try and help us contact their relatives, so it's been a personal crusade."

Among the unclaimed urns are at least ten babies, including a set of twins.

Another is a returned serviceman whose wife died in a car accident several years ago.

Ms Toon said while some of the deceased have no one to claim them, others have been left behind by family who cannot deal with the loss.

She said the issue was not with finances, and all but three of the urns have already been paid for.

Since the listing was published, the Returned and Services Association (RSA) has approached her and will provide ceremonies for any veterans left unclaimed.

Funeral Directors Association chief executive Katrina Shanks said it was common for urns to be left behind.

"It may be because the family has forgotten about the ashes or the person that was meant to pick them up has moved on ... or you have a situation where the family's decided that the funeral home will hold the ashes until the rest of the family come for a gathering to scatter the ashes."

She said many funeral directors would hold on to ashes for decades in the hope that family would one day come back for them.

"Recently I've been into a funeral home that has had ashes dating back to 1940."

Others opt to deal with the ashes themselves.

Davis Funeral Services held a ceremony seven years ago in which hundreds of unclaimed ashes were scattered. Six years later, it had to do the same thing.

Managing director Craig Little said many people did not know how to deal with cremations.

"I guess in the past it wasn't unusual for people to take the cremated remains back home and have them in an urn and they'd sit in a lounge somewhere, pride and place," Mr Little said.

"As time's gone by, people are a little more hesitant to take the ashes home."

J Weir & Co said it would hold a ceremony and scatter any remaining ashes not claimed by the end of the month.

Ms Toon urged anyone who thought they might have a relative with the firm to get in touch.