Funeral Wishes

Claire McTernan, Stamford Bridge
 07 Aug 2019

With the rising cost of funerals receiving attention within the media, and being the subject of a Competition and Markets Authority investigation, funeral arrangements are increasingly at the forefront of our clients’ minds.

Whilst there is no requirement to do so, it is helpful for a testator (person making a Will) to include some indication within their Will as to what they would like to happen to their body after death. This is especially important where professional executors are appointed. Popular options in the UK include standard burial, cremation and woodland burial; where the family opts for cremation, it is not uncommon for further instructions to be provided as to the ‘scattering’ or interment of the ashes.

Despite the fact that many clients have specific wishes for the disposal of their bodies, any indication with the Will is not legally binding. This is in circumstances where the basis of the law in England and Wales is that there is no ownership in a body i.e. the deceased’s body is not an asset which can be left within the Will.  Whilst no one formally ‘owns’ a deceased’s body, the personal representatives have responsibility to ‘dispose’ of the body. In reality, it is often the closest family members who make arrangements for burial, cremation and the funeral in general.

Should a testator have a desire to donate their body to medical science/research, formal consent must be given in writing (and signed) during the person’s life. A valid consent is a legally binding declaration and the deceased’s wishes take precedence over those of family members. That said, doctors have discretion not to accept a donation in the event of strong family objection. There is no obligation on any scientific institution to accept a body donated to science; but, should they accept the body, they will usually also accept responsibility for the cost of disposal in the long term.

Reasonable funeral expenses (or other expenses authorised by the Will) can be paid out of the deceased’s estate before other unsecured debts. What is considered reasonable will depend on the deceased’s circumstances and the value of the estate. Funeral expenses can usually be released from the deceased’s funds before obtaining a Grant of Representation.

Prepaid funeral plans seem to be becoming increasingly popular and are marketed by the industry as a good way of protecting loved ones from the rising cost of funerals whilst providing the opportunity to make arrangements for specifics such as music, flowers and charitable donations (taking the onus off the family following bereavement).

Please contact one of our specialist Private Client advisors should you wish to make or review your Will to include details of your funeral wishes.