Losing a loved one can be made even harder if a family cannot agree on how to lay them to rest. Hayley Gaffney of Coodes Solicitors Personal Disputes team outlines the legal issues and options for families who find themselves in a dispute over funeral arrangements.
When a loved one dies, it is a time of grief, confusion and upset. What is already a very difficult situation can be made even harder when a family finds itself in a feud over the funeral arrangements.
If a family ends up in a dispute over how to lay their loved one to rest, the Court will consider the deceased’s wishes. It is therefore important to set these out in a Will, or at least advise a close member of your family. In a Will you can outline your wishes for your funeral arrangements, including whether you would wish to be burial or cremated. Although your requests will not be legally binding, they will help your loved ones make decisions and will also be taken into consideration, should the Court need to get involved.
When someone dies the duty to arrange a funeral falls primarily on the personal representatives. The personal representatives are either the executors named in the Will or, if someone has died without leaving a Will, the administrators under the intestacy rules. If there is no will, although the deceased person’s administrators will be left to make the decisions, they may not be able to do this until after they have received a grant of letters of administration. These personal representatives have the right to determine the mode and place of the funeral, even if other members of the family object. If two or more personal representatives cannot agree on this, the dispute will be decided on a practical basis by the Court if necessary. This would involve the people in dispute instructing legal representatives to make representations on their behalf for the Court to decide on the most appropriate way forward.
If there is to be a burial, the personal representatives have the ultimate decision as to where they are buried. If the deceased person is to be cremated, the personal representatives have the ultimate decision as to whether and where the ashes should be scattered or where they will be kept.
There is an ultimate duty on the Local Authority for a burial to take place if suitable arrangements have not otherwise been made.
If personal representatives are not the spouse or close family, they would generally allow the spouse or other close family to deal with funeral arrangements. However, if there is a dispute between the family members, the ultimate decision falls to the personal representatives. It is important to note, however, that no one has ownership of the deceased person’s body.
The Court has the power to replace two prospective personal representatives with someone more suitable and able. However, the Court cannot dictate the arrangements for laying someone to rest.