It is our mission to provide a deserved, lawful, proper, and dignified manner of disposition for those decedent residents who are indigent or go unclaimed upon death. Otero County respects each individual in the community and will treat all with maximum regard and dignity.
Unclaimed or indigent deceased persons are the responsibility of the county of the deceased's residency. Indigent and Unclaimed deaths occurring in Otero County are governed by NMSA 1978 Chapter 24 Article 12 and 13, and Otero County Ordinance §140-13-M.
The responsibility of Otero County is to ensure the disposition of the deceased as quickly as possible, without a funeral, graveside services, committal services, or memorial services, whether public or private, and without embalming of the body unless embalming is required by the place of disposition. (NMSA 1978 §61-32-3(1)). Otero County provides for direct cremation only, except on a case-by-case basis.
The county shall ensure that the body is buried or cremated no later than thirty 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 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 after such disposition. (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1).
Eligibility for the Indigent/Unclaimed Cremation Program is based on the deceased person, whose criteria must meet either Indigent or Unclaimed status and the residency requirement, per New Mexico Statute at time of death:
Deceased persons shall be considered to be indigent if the estate is insufficient to cover the cost of burial or cremation. (NMSA 1978 §24-13-2)
If a deceased person has not been claimed by a relative, friend, or other interested person assuming the responsibility for and expense of disposition shall be considered an unclaimed decedent (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1).
A resident is defined as someone who has lived in Otero County for a minimum of 90 days prior to the time of passing.
If the deceased person is declared indigent, cremation expenses shall become the responsibility of the County or residence of the deceased person (NMSA 1978 §24-13-3). If the decedent is not a resident of Otero County at the time of death, Otero County cannot proceed any further and will send/direct requester to the appropriate county of residence. In the event that the decedent's primary residence is out of the State of New Mexico, but he or she passed away in Otero County, the occurrence will be handled on a case by case basis.
If the decedent is unclaimed (no known next of kin) and had assets/property of sufficient value to defray the expenses of cremation or burial, invoices for the expenses shall be forwarded to such person or official authorized by law to be appointed administrator of the estate of the deceased to pay expenses from the estate (NMSA 1978 §24-13-3). All available assets of the deceased shall be used to reimburse the county for the cost of burial or cremation. Should the county be required to pay expenses for burial or cremation of an unclaimed decedent who has left an estate, the estate shall reimburse the county for those expenses (NMSA 1978 §24-13-5).
To the extent that the deceased person is indigent, the burial or cremation expenses shall be borne by the county of residence of the deceased person. If the county of residence of the deceased person is not known, the burial or cremation expenses shall be borne by the county in which the body was found. (NMSA 1978 §24-13-3)
Releasing the Cremated Remains
The cremated remains may be released provided that cost of cremation has been reimbursed, in full to Otero County (NMSA 1978 §24-13-5), no later than two years (NMSA 1978 §24-13-1) from the time of cremation: remains will be held by the current contracted crematory during this time.
It is Healthcare Services' practice to wait 90 days before payment can be received for unclaimed persons. The purpose is to allow any and all legal next of kin to come forward to claim the deceased.
If all family members are known and have filled out the appropriate paper work prior to cremation or burial, payment to the county can be reimbursed as soon as services have been provided.
All reimbursement to the county for cremation and burial services must be paid in full. We currently do not allow small payment installments. Payment must be in the form of Cashier's Check or Money Order.