Contesting Wills and entering into family disputes following the death of a loved one is not as uncommon as you’d think, particularly where the subject of that dispute is the deceased loved one’s wishes.

The question of who has the right to arrange a funeral has become an increasingly debated topic and one that we’ll cover in this short blog. Let’s explore and examine what the law says on the matter.

Who can arrange the funeral?

This is a common query and is often straight forward. When a will is in place, the person who can arrange the funeral is often (but not exclusively) the next of kin. It may also be your executor. When a person dies, an executor is someone who collects their estate and manages their assets on death. Generally speaking, the executor can have the last say as they would usually authorise payment from the estate to settle any outstanding funeral costs.

Executors and administrators (especially where they are the surviving spouse) can have a great deal of control about arranging the funeral including how much information they share, to whom and when. In addition, they could choose to not inform people at all.  However, care should be taken if you are an executor of an estate where you are choosing not to inform interested parties that someone has died.

What if there’s no will in place?

Where there’s not a Will, the person responsible for arranging a funeral and informing those of the death may be the administrator of the estate, parents of a deceased child, a surviving spouse, children of a deceased parent, a householder in whose premises the body lies (this includes a hospital authority) or the local authority for the area in which the body was found (i.e. if no other arrangements can be made).

There is no order of priority as to who can arrange a funeral so there may be situations where there is more than one person who has an interest in this and is simply left unaware of the death and the funeral arrangements.

A sad example

In particularly sad cases like that of Jean Blass, who was the victim of a predatory marriage, her loved ones had no input with regards to her funeral arrangements and for some time, they didn’t even know where she was buried.

Assuming the Will wishes were correct (although in this case it wasn’t), such action taken by an executor, as in the case of Jean Blass, is not illegal. In addition, the wishes a person may leave in their Will or on death in respect of their funeral wishes is not binding. Therefore, even if those wishes are not carried out, perhaps by a more unscrupulous executor, this will not result in any action against them.

In a recent case between a spouse of a second marriage and the deceased’s daughter, the deceased made a deathbed Will appointing his wife as his executor and beneficiary, leading his daughter raising questions of capacity as his wishes were changed substantially so close to his own death and signed under unusual circumstances.

The importance of coming to an arrangement

Ideally, the parties should come to an arrangement about funeral wishes sooner rather than later. In the rare cases that make it to a courtroom, judges may view those involved perhaps a little more harshly as such proceedings are often deemed ‘unseemly’ due to the stress and grief that is caused by such proceedings. It can also be extremely costly.

The bottom line

Ultimately, the current rules about who has the right to decide about the remains of a loved one can lead to family disputes and the idea about who should have the right, or the final say when it comes to funeral arrangements is a question that is becoming more common.

One of the best ways to mitigate possible disputes on death is to make your wishes known. This could be under the Will or by way of a letter of wishes stored with your Will. While such wishes are not binding, by making your wishes clearly known before death, you would hope that such conflict could be mitigated whilst loved ones are still dealing with their grief.

If you need help and advice following the death of a loved one, Gorvins’ wills, trust and probate team can be on hand to answer questions and help you put a plan in place. Set up a meeting today by calling us on 0161 930 5151, emailing or filling in the online form.

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