A father of three daughters in their 20’s passed away suddenly in an accident.  The man’s new wife wanted him to be buried in a plot she had bought for them, but his daughters wanted his body to be buried at the family urupa. 

At a time when emotions were already high, they fought about where his body should ultimately be laid to rest.

Different cultures and religions have different views about what should be done with the body of a deceased person.  Often different family members have strong views about what should be the final resting place of a loved one.

It is not unusual for disputes about the determination of the final resting place of a loved one turning up in the news or court, especially in multicultural relationships or blended families.

What is the legal position in New Zealand?

The final decision-making power about funeral or burial arrangement rests with the executor of the deceased’s Will.  An executor must take into account the wishes of the deceased, whether that be expressed in a Will or otherwise known. 

They will often take into account the perspectives of the surviving spouse or partner, children, and other relatives. However, they are not bound to carry out the wishes of the family members.

In cases where there is a dispute between the executor and other family members regarding the disposal of a dead body the High Court can get involved.

This means that the family may have the ability to overturn the decision of the executor if the High Court, after assessing all the circumstances, decides that the decision made by the executor is inappropriate.

How Can I Try to Prevent Disputes?

While you cannot stop disputes arising, and directions you make regarding your funeral and burial are not binding on anyone, you can give basic instructions about any funeral or burial arrangements in your Will or in another document which could be kept with your Will.

While these wishes are not binding on anyone (as the executor has the final decision), it will give guidance as to what your wishes were and can be presented to other family members (and the High Court) if there is a dispute.  

Generally executors will do their best to honour the wishes of the deceased, unless there is a practical issue with doing so. For example, you may say you want your ashes scattered in a public park, which is illegal, so your executor will not be able to give effect to that wish. 

It pays to think carefully about who you want as the executor of your Will and the extent to which you would like any cultural or religious ceremonies to be part of your send off.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.