Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities when Someone Dies

Did you know that:

  • No law requires you to use an undertaker. An undertaker is your agent, your deputy, your colleague. You are the funeral director.
  • The personal representative) executor or administrator) has a prior right to take charge of a dead body unless i) the coroner wishes to examine the body or ii) the person died of a disease which makes the body infectious.
  • There is no legal requirement to hold a funeral.
  • The right to take possession starts at the moment of death.
  • Dead bodies are not infectious (except in certain circumstances).
  • You do not have to accept responsibility for disposing of someone who has died.
  • If no one accepts responsibility for disposing of a dead person, it become the job of the state.
  • Funeral wishes in wills, unlike gifts such as money, are not legally binding (though may be used to build us a case in court, if, for example, the disposal method is disputed as in Anstey & Mundle 2016.
  • An executor or administrator can be replaced under certain circumstances.
  • Failure to dispose of a body may result in prosecution.
  • The death must be registered.
  • The person who engages an undertaker is responsible for paying the bill.
  • You may bury a dead person on your own land.
  • A buried body can only be moved with permission.
  • Until recently, there was no legal definition of ashes. The Cremation (England and Wales)(Amended) Regulations 2016 has now defined ashes as ‘all the material left in the cremator after a cremation following the removal of any metal and any subsequent grinding or other process which is applied to the material’.
  • The application procedure for cremation is designed to rule out foul play.
  • Under certain circumstances it may be necessary to seek permission to exhume ashes.
  • You don’t have to bury or cremate someone who has died. You can preserve them.
  • There is no statutory bereavement leave.
  • A one-off-open-air funeral pyre is probably not legal.

While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of this information, they are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice and no liability will be accepted in relation to such reliance.

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