Funeral Arrangements – what happens if you cannot agree?

14 November, 2016

Dealing with a deceased’s body can raise sensitive issues.  Disputes between individuals, such as the deceased’s children or current and estranged partners, are quite common and can cause extra stress at an already very difficult time.

We have prepared a series of four blogs, looking at some common scenarios, and in this first blog we consider the rules around funeral arrangements.

When it comes to funeral arrangements, generally speaking, the best solution is for everyone (executors, beneficiaries and other interested parties) to try to reach agreement , rather than risking the possible breakdown of

21261215 - detail of a mourning sculpture on a cemeteryrelationships. 

If that is not possible, there is a legal structure to fall back on.

So, what are the ‘rules’?

The law probably cannot help if the argument is about choice of hymns or who should give the eulogy but if the dispute is over who will make the arrangements, the type of burial, or where it should take place, there are legal principles that can be applied.

The general rule is that no one owns the deceased’s body, it does not form part of the estate and the beneficiaries of the estate cannot claim any rights over it.

Certain people do, however, have rights to possess the body solely for the purpose of disposing of it:

  • The coroner, if an inquest is needed.
  • The personal representatives (the executors appointed by the Will or, if there is no Will, the administrators appointed to deal with the estate).
  • Parents of a deceased child.
  • A householder in whose premises the body lies (including a hospital authority).  If someone dies in hospital, and no one else takes responsibility, the hospital can arrange for disposal of the body.
  • The local authority for the area in which the body was found, if no other arrangements are made.

None of these, other than the coroner, has priority over the others.  Note that the next of kin does not have a right or responsibility to dispose of the deceased’s body, unless he or she is also a personal representative or the parent of a child.  

Further help

If you would like more information about what you should do if you are responsible for dealing with a deceased person’s body or are unable to agree what should happen to a body, please contact Philip Youdan at  For further information about Will disputes and disputes involving trusts and estates please click here to view our Guide to Will Trust and Estate Disputes.

Our next blog in this series will consider the impact of the deceased’s wishes on what happens to their body after death.

(Part 1 of 4 blogs)