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Rules relating to the possession of a deceased's body.

View profile for Helen Taylor TEP
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As you are all aware, when someone passes away decisions need to be made in respect of what happens to the body whether it be cremation, burial, green burial or anything else. Disputes at this point can arise between family members as to what should happen with the body and therefore, it is always helpful to understand what the legal position is.


The general rule, confirmed by case law, is that no one has ownership of a deceased’s body. For this reason, the body does not form part of the estate and thus, no beneficiary can claim any right over the deceased’s body.

However, if the deceased’s body has undergone a process such, as embalmment or dissection, which results in the body or part of it acquiring a value in itself then the general rule outlined above does not apply.


Despite the general rule that no one can own a deceased’s body, certain people do have the right to possess it. For instance, those responsible for disposing of the body have the right to possess the same in order to do so. Furthermore, the coroner also has the right to possession if an inquest is required and at this point, no one else has a right to possess or dispose of the deceased’s body.

So, who has the responsibility of disposing of the deceased’s body?

  1. The personal representative(s) – whether this is given by the Will or if the deceased has passed away intestate, from the Grant of Letters of Administration;
  2. Their parents;
  3. The homeowner of the property where the deceased’s body is; or
  4. The local authority for the area in which the body is found.

It is important to note however, that the list provided above has no order of priority and therefore, more than one individual may have the responsibility of disposing of the deceased’s body at one time.

The above highlights the importance of including funeral wishes within your Will or including a detailed letter of wishes in respect of the same. Including provisions in respect of funeral wishes may limit the likelihood of a dispute arising as your wishes will be clearly set out for family members, executors and others to see.

If you would like some more information in respect of preparing a Will or if Franklins have prepared a Will for you in the past and you wish to review the same, please get in touch on 01908 660966 or email me at