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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who is legally responsible for the disposition of remains?

Who is legally responsible for the disposition of remains of a deceased person? People are sometimes surprised that the answer to this question is not automatically the next of kin. The law says that the executor named in a Will is the person who has both the right to decide how the remains are disposed of, and the legal responsibility to make the arrangements. The executor must make sure that the cost of the funeral (or cremation, service, burial etc) is suitable to the deceased person's station in life and reasonable given the size of the estate.

The fact that a named executor can override the wishes of family members can lead to a dispute if the spouse of the deceased is not the executor, and they don't agree on how the body is to be disposed of. I can't think of a worse legal dispute than fighting over the body of a loved one.

Another fact that might surprise you is that if a person puts a statement in his or her Will about how he or she wants to be disposed of on death, the statement is precatory, or not legally enforceable. It is an expression of wishes only and the executor doesn't have to follow it.

If the deceased person didn't leave a Will, the responsibility for the funeral arrangements will likely fall on his or her family. If there is no family, the Office of the Public Trustee will step in and make the funeral arrangements.

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