Funeral disputes: a rise from the ashes

In many previous blogs, I’ve written about the cause and effect of “unplanned” deaths. The fact that half of us are still dying without a will is leaving many families in turmoil and, according to further statistics released recently by The Gazette (link to: around one quarter of deaths lead to at least one family dispute.

However, it’s not just practicalities like wills or power of attorney. Apparently, one fifth of those family disputes caused relates to the deceased’s final resting place. Worrying, almost half (49%) of disputes actually came to a head during the funeral itself.

It’s a shame, but, perhaps unsurprising. Particularly taking into account the number of people who may feel they have a “claim” to the body – step children, in-laws and second cousins, as well as any direct relations, spouses or next of kin. In that case, is it really possible to even stake a claim to a body and, if so, who truly owns it?

In essence, and in the eyes of the law, nobody can own a body, simply because it’s not specifically classed as property. Someone can be entitled to possession of the body but only if they are under a duty to dispose of it. If this is a crematorium, the authority must hand over the ashes to the person who delivered the body for cremation.

But, it’s not as simple as that – especially when you take into account those aforementioned family members. To add to that, you might want to consider the specific wishes of the deceased, for example, if they choose to donate their body to medical science. Until the end of the last century, it was generally accepted in law that as a body was not a possession, and therefore was exempt from any will, that disposal of a body was not legally binding.

Therefore, whilst in law no one can possess the body, we are back to those who have a responsibility of disposing of it – i.e. a funeral home or crematorium.

To reduce the chances of a dispute in your family, it’s a good idea to talk to them about your wishes in the event of your death. You might want to outline any specific wishes you have in relation to burials or cremation, or whether you have a final resting place in mind. Finally, you might want to consider updating your will or Lasting Power of Attorney, to make sure you receive the right medical treatment and that any possessions are divided accordingly in the event of your death.

If you would like any advice relating to making a will or Lasting Power of Attorney, contact the Private Client team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

Liz Dalgetty

Liz Dalgetty

Consultant Solicitor & Notary Public

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502251

Office: Dorking Office