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Who has ownership of a deceased’s ashes?

Complex family arrangements are increasingly common with disputes arising when an individual passes away.

Along with complicated family dynamics, emotions like grief and sadness can only worsen an already difficult situation.

In a recent study conducted by a provider of funeral plans, a quarter of deaths in the UK have led to disputes in the family.

With the above in mind, it is important to be clear on who is entitled to their loved one’s ashes.

The basic starting points for ownership

Disputes surrounding ownership of a deceased’s ashes, much like other family disputes, are often complicated.

The rules outlined below are basic starting points when involved in a dispute:

  • There is no property in a dead body, or put another way, nobody can claim ownership of a body.
  • The individual entitled to possession of the body is the person under the duty to dispose of the body.
  • A crematorium authority will need to hand over the ashes to the person who delivered the body for cremation.

All of the above stem from the “no property in a corpse” rule which points out that it is not possible to gift or dispose of a body by a will, or by being bought or sold.

Statue does permit a body (or part of a body) to be donated for medical or scientific purposes.

Disputes among executors

Some statutory rules and orders are designed to regulate cremation. These state that ashes can only be handed over to the person who delivered the body for cremation (this is usually the executor.)

In disputes that have arisen over the ashes of an individual, which have ended up in court, the ruling given has not been consistent.

This is a hotly debated topic and as such, it can be difficult to obtain clarity.

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