Who Owns You When You Are Dead? The Responsibility, Possession and Disposal of Your Remains


Between busy work schedules, family, friends, social lives and personal problems our lives are rarely ever straightforward; but what happens when the chaos of our lives carries over into our death?

It is a sad fact that family relationships can often be strained or even non existent and this frequently causes disputes in the event of a family member dying. The most common question asked is who gets what? This is decided either by the deceased’s Will or by the Intestacy Rules. An equally important (but less frequently asked) question can arise when planning the funeral; who gets to decide what happens to the body?

In the majority of circumstances family and friends agree on funeral plans; usually by sticking to any wishes the deceased may have expressed. Unfortunately there are occasions where loved ones simply cannot agree and if this applies to you or someone you know then here are some facts you may need to know:


Ownership of the Body

The case of Williams v Williams (1880) sets a long established legal principle that there is no property in a corpse. Although a person can’t own the deceased’s body, certain people can have the right to possess it. This right in possession is only for the purposes of disposing the body.


Who has Responsibility for Disposing of the Body?

If the deceased left a valid Will the Executors of this Will are responsible for disposing of the body.

If the deceased died intestate (without a Will) the persons who apply for and are granted the Letters of Administration (the Administrators) are responsible for disposing of the body.

The Executors or Administrators should, as a general rule, try to abide by the wishes of the deceased whilst taking into consideration the wishes of any family members and friends of the deceased, however, they are not obligated by law to adhere these wishes.

Generally, the Executors or Administrators have the ultimate say as to whether the deceased’s body is buried or cremated (and whether your ashes are scattered, buried or kept) but also where and when this occurs.

As affirmed in the case of Dobson v North Tyneside Health Authority next of kin do not have a right or responsibility to dispose of the deceased’s body.


What Does This Mean For Me?

If you have not done so already, you should consider writing your Wills to minimise the likelihood of disputes of this kind arising. We have an expert team who ask all the right questions to ensure your Wills accurately reflect your wishes. If you would like to discuss your Wills further please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team who would be happy to help.