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It is our intention to provide you with helpful information and answers to the most commonly asked questions.

For a detailed answer, please click on any of the questions below.

Bernalillo County has created a Transparency Portal where unclaimed/indigent persons may be searched for by simple searchable fields, dating back seven years from the present year. Please click on the link above to visit this page.

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It is the duty of the Board Commissioners of each county in New Mexico decently inter or cremate the body of any unclaimed decedent or indigent person. The county shall ensure that the body is cremated no later than 30 days after a determination has been made that the body has not been claimed, but no less than two weeks after death. If the body is cremated, the county shall ensure that the cremated remains are retained and stored for no less than two years in a manner that allows for identification of the cremated remains. After the expiration of two years the cremated remains may be disposed of, provided the county retains a record of the place and manner of disposition for not less than five years (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1).

Cremated remains will be held by the current contracted funeral home for a period of not more than two years from the time of cremation in a manner that allows for identification of the cremated remains. After the expiration of the two years required, the cremated remains may be lawfully disposed of (interment, entombment, enrichment-niche) by the funeral home, so long as the funeral home provides Bernalillo County with a record of the place and manner of the disposition for not less than five years after such disposition (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1).

The attending physician will only sign off on the death certificate when the official cause of death is determined. The official cause of death may be pending labs/reports such as toxicology reports. After the attending physician signs off on the death certificate, the local funeral home will forward it to New Mexico Vital Records. Once information has been sent to Vital Records, the average application processing time is 6 to 12 weeks and is subject to change dependent on the volume of incoming applications. These time frames are not determined by Bernalillo County.

The family is responsible for the placement and cost of an obituary notice.

After the attending physician signs the death certificate and returns it to the current contracted funeral home to be filed, the certificate is filed with the local health department in the locality where death occurred (time frame varies from one to six months). Bernalillo County does not request or obtain death certificates on the family's behalf. Only the following persons may request a death certificate per New Mexico Vital Records:

  • mother;
  • father;
  • sibling;
  • child;
  • grandchild;
  • current spouse,
  • maternal grandparent;
  • paternal grandparent.

Non-immediate family must provide tangible proof of legal interest for requested record. Certified copies of the death certificate can be requested and purchased from the New Mexico Department of Health Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics Department, (866) 534-0051 or www.vitalrecordsnm.org.

Bernalillo County abides by New Mexico State Statute with the manner and method of disposition. With direct cremation, there is no embalming of the body; therefore, a viewing cannot take place. The program is administered utilizing general county funding, which does not cover any other services outside of a dignified and lawful disposition of the body.

The Bernalillo County Unclaimed/Indigent Cremation Program will assume custody of the body for disposition, so a funeral service and or viewing with the body are not possible. However, the family may have a memorial service conducted at their own expense and at any time after reimbursement has been made to Bernalillo County for the release of the cremated remains.

The program’s process varies on a case-by-case basis. The program administrator will conduct due diligence with every case, ensuring each of the qualifications are met by extensive research through collaborative efforts with Bernalillo County Office of the Assessor, Legal Department, Office of the County Clerk, and other outside agencies such as the Office of Medical Investigator, New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services, Veteran Affairs, etc. Every case is dealt with accurately and lawfully with utmost attention. The program administrator with work independently with each case to ensure the lawful timeframes for proper disposition are met (see question "What happens to those who remain 'unclaimed' before and after cremation?" for criteria).

According to NMSA 1978 §24-12A-2 in the state of New Mexico legal next of kin, in order of precedence, is as follows:

  • surviving spouse;
  • majority of dependents over the age of 18;
  • parent(s) or legal guardian; majority of siblings;
  • an adult who has exhibited special care and concern for the decedent willing/able to make a decision about disposition;
  • adult person of the next degree of kinship in the order named by New Mexico law NMSA 1978 §45-2-103.

Only legal next of kin may make decisions on behalf of the decedent’s disposition and sign documentation agreeing and adhering to the program’s policies and procedures, in order of precedence listed above.

Every case varies, therefore, if you have questions on whether or not your loved one meets the program’s criteria, contact the Program Administrator for further information or to set up a consultation appointment.

Qualification for the program is based on the decedent, not on any other family member or friend. The decedent must be of indigent/unclaimed status; a resident of Bernalillo County for a minimum of six months prior to the time of passing; and not own any property/assets at the time of passing.

Anyone can inquire about the program, but qualification can only be met by the decedent based on program eligibility referenced in the program home page. There is not an application process, however, there are forms that must be completed by legal next of kin to the decedent, certain forms being legally binding, and must be notarized along with other required documents dependent on the case.

Bernalillo County is located in central New Mexico and is New Mexico’s most populous county, which consists of more than 642,000 people of an area nearly 1,200 square miles. Bernalillo County boundaries include the entire Albuquerque area, and the following localities: Carnuel, Cedar Crest, Chilili, Isleta Village Proper, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, North Valley, South Valley and Tijeras. Please click here to see a site map.

A deceased person whose body has not been claimed by a friend, relative or other interested person assuming the responsibility for and expense of disposition shall be considered an unclaimed decedent (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1).

If the decedent owned property, the property shall be granted to the person(s) designated in the decedent’s will. If there was no will or designee to the property, the person(s) in line to inherit the property shall enter into the process of intestate estate NMSA 1978 §45-2-101. This process can be started through Bernalillo County Court of Wills, Estates & Probate. Timeframes vary on inheritance on a case-by-case basis.

If the decedent owned property/assets, they will not qualify for this program. This is based on NMSA 1978 §24-13-2, in that, if the property/assets owned are of sufficient value, that value is considered adequate to cover the cost of burial or cremation and shall not be borne onto the county of residence.

A deceased person shall be considered to be an indigent for purposes of Chapter 24, Article 13 NMSA 1978 if his/her estate is insufficient to cover the cost of burial or cremation (NMSA 1978 §24-13-2).

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