Last Rights

Most people are aware that the two most important things that need to be done after a death are registering the death, and organising the funeral. This period can be even more difficult if the deceased has not left any wishes as to what should be done on their death, or if there is disagreement within the family as to what arrangements should be made.

It is often assumed that it is the next-of-kin who decides what will happen to the body and who organises the funeral – this is not necessarily the case. The law states that there are certain categories of people and organisation that can make these decisions. It may be the next-of-kin fall within one of these categories, but that cannot be guaranteed.

The categories of people and organisations that have the legal right to possess and dispose of a body are:

1. Executors under a will;

2. Personal representatives who have obtained a grant from the Probate Registry;

3. The parents of a deceased child;

4. Where the death occurred in a communal establishment, a responsible person from within that establishment – for example, a care home manager; and

5. The local authority, as a last resort.

Of these categories, where the deceased is an adult, the executors are in the best position to make the decisions following a death. This is because the role of an executor comes into effect immediately on death, and they then have a legal responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes. Executors can act straight away, avoiding any delay with funeral arrangements, whereas personal representatives must apply to the court first.

Preparing a will is the only way to appoint executors. A will can also contain a person’s wishes regarding whether they want to be buried or cremated, and even details of the format of their funeral. To ensure that funeral arrangements following a death are carried out as quickly and smoothly as possible, it would be prudent to make a will.

by Harleen Hanson from the Kings Lynn office