When the final goodbye leads to disputes

Posted:4th February 2020

The funeral is one of the pivotal moments in any bereavement. Done well, it allows the family to celebrate their loved one’s life and to start the grieving process.

But, when there are differences of opinion about practicalities, it can cause or re-open family rifts and lead to highly charged feuds.

Until comparatively recently, the law didn’t concern itself much with the funeral, but this is starting to change.

The leading case is Anstey v Mundle & another (2016), which dealt with a dispute between daughters and whether their father, Mr Carty, should be buried in England where he lived, or in Barbados, which was his childhood home.

The judge had to decide from somewhat mixed evidence, including a homemade Will, what Mr Carty intended. In the end, the judge determined that Mr Carty had wanted to be buried in Barbados next to his mother.

These principles were followed in EMG’s recent reported case of Jacimaviciute v HM Coroner for Westminster & Stanevicience (2019).

Like Anstey, this was a dispute between sisters, although in this case the family originally came from Lithuania, rather than Barbados.

EMG acted for the defendant sister, who wanted her mother’s ashes to be buried in Lithuania, in a cemetery where other family members were buried by the Baltic Sea, set among trees and white sands.

The claimant sister wanted her mother to be buried in London where the deceased woman, Danguole, had lived towards the end of her life, and where the claimant and her young daughter would be able to visit the grave.

As in Anstey, the judge had to decide what the deceased had wanted. The Court doesn’t have the power to decide details of the funeral, but the judge does have the right to decide who the body should be released to.

After a hearing of several days in the High Court, where family members on each side had to give evidence which was highly emotional and, at times, harrowing, the judge found in favour of our client. He ordered that her mother’s body should be released to her so that her ashes could be buried by the Baltic Sea as, the Court found, her mother had always wanted.

EMG was delighted to have succeeded on behalf of our client, but that happiness was bittersweet as it was a shame that the sisters had to go to the lengths of a High Court hearing to resolve their differences. We always advise anyone who has particular wishes about their funeral to speak to a solicitor so that their Will and any associated documents and desires are as clear as possible.

We also encourage family members to talk openly together with their loved ones about any special wishes, so that everyone is aware of what they are.

It may solve a lot of issues and prevent additional hurt further down the line when the time does come for their loved one to pass away, and when they are already struggling to come to terms with their loss. For advice about Wills contact Sam Edward at [email protected], and for Will disputes contact Ursula Collie at [email protected] or call 0191 500 6989.