The facts of the Wilson case involved a divorced couple, at odds over where to bury the ashes of their 23-year-old son, who was killed in a tragic car crash when he was hit by a drunk driver. When he died, the son was single and had no children. He left no will or specific instructions for the disposition of his body. His parents, William and Lili, were the co-personal representatives and sole beneficiaries of his estate. They agreed on having his body cremated, but couldn’t agree on what to do with the ashes.
When deciding how to dispose of a decedent's ashes, are the remains considered property? This is not an easy scenario for the court or the family involved.
A recent case in Florida concerned the remains of a 23-year-old man who was killed by a drunk driver. The man was not married and did not have children. This left his parents as his sole heirs and his parents were divorced. The two disagreed over what to do with his ashes.
The father wanted to divide the ashes between the two of them, while the mother disagreed with that on religious grounds. Because they could not agree, they ended up in court.
To read the full story of this unusual litigation, click over to an article in Wealth Management titled "May He Rest in Pieces?." The article has the entire story of the litigation, the legal theories the parents relied on, and why the court decided as it did.
Ultimately, the mother won in this case.
This case highlights two important issues. The first is that you should make the disposition of your remains part of your broader overall estate plan. That did not happen in this case because the deceased did not have an estate plan, not even a will.
This is another important issue and a common problem. Younger people think they have many years left to create an estate plan. However, as this case shows, you never know when you might have a life-ending accident. Without an estate plan, you very well could leave family members to argue over something as basic and fundamental as what to do with your remains.
Regardless of how old you are, make sure that you have made your wishes known and make sure that you consult an experienced estate planning attorney. You can never know when it will be too late to do either.
Reference: Wealth Management (September 24, 2014) "May He Rest in Pieces?"