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ownership of ashes usa

Ownership of cremation ashes in the United States


Since I start the blog I have repeatedly been asked who has ownership or rites over the cremated ashes (cremains) and whilst I cannot definitely give answer to those of you living in the UK I have got a pretty good answer for you for those living over in the United States. Using the site I posed the following question to Lisa Carlson :

I have a lot of people ask who owns cremation ashes. As I sure you know there can be some strong feelings on the matter (eg the recent Carol Shelby case). But I can’t find any case law, in the UK or the States. Can you help?

This was here response which I think you will agree is very helpful:

Case law gives a quasi-right to a body (or cremated remains) for the purpose of burial and mourning. In the U.S., about half the states have a law that permits a person to name a designated agent for body disposition. That is helpful in the case of an unmarried couple or when one is estranged from legal next-of-kin. Many if not most states will honour the written wishes of the deceased as might be found in a will, too, tho’ a will often isn’t read until after the funeral which is why the designated agent document is helpful.

Funeral directors get themselves into BIG trouble if they make funeral arrangements (and take money) from someone who is not either the legal next-of-kin or a designated agent. Typically, next-of-kin go in this order:

o Spouse
o Adult children, all of whom have equal rights, so in some cases a majority might be needed
o Parents
o Adult siblings
o etc.

If next-of-kin fail to step forward to make arrangements and actively refuse to do so, then an interested party could take over. But there has to be an effort to speak with the next-of-kin first. One can’t simply take over without telling the next-of-kin.

So thanks very much Lisa Carlson

As with most things one question leads to another and you are probably wondering what a Designated Agent Document is. Leave that one with me and I will track an example down and explain their uses and how you go about getting and using one.

2 thoughts on “Ownership of cremation ashes in the United States

  1. Reply
    Sara O'conner - 10th March 2022

    I have a question please . My Husband of 13 years passed away and he was cremated. I was the next to next -to-kin legally. And the funeral home give me a certificate of cremation in my name for my husband’s cremated remains. I had possession of the remains untill my brother in-law broke in to my home and took them . Now it’s no secret that he did this at all. What can I do legally to get them back and is there something that can be done to my brother in-law criminally for Stilling his remains from me. I already called the police when this happened but nothing has came from it. Please help??

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 14th March 2022

      Hi Sara

      I am sorry to hear that, we are based in the UK so very cautious about advising what to do in the US. I would two things if it was me. Pursue the police, they can’t ignore break and entry. I would also refer this to a solicitor and they should be able to recover the ashes for you, this will entail cost though.
      I hope this helps
      Kind regards

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