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By: Scott Grossman on August 27th, 2016

Who Has Control Over Your Loved One’s Body When He Or She Dies?


When iconic radio host Casey Kasem passed away in 2014, many legal issues arose between his children and his surviving spouse. One such issue involved the funeral arrangements for Kasem and the burial of his body. The surviving spouse wanted to cremate the body, while the children insisted that he had wanted to be buried in Glendale, California. In a bizarre turn of events, the body actually went missing for a time, before it was finally recovered and eventually laid to rest.

What this case highlights is the fact that estate litigation matters do not always center only on the assets of a deceased loved one. Family members may also find themselves at odds over who is in control of the decedent’s remains, and what exactly should be done with them. These family members may find themselves in court as a result.

Who Has the Power to Make Decisions About the Decedent’s Remains?

Under California law, the following individuals have priority with regard to the authority to make decisions about a decedent’s physical remains:

  • An agent under a health care directive. The directive typically contains a provision that directs what should be done with the remains, or gives someone the authority to make those decisions.
  • The surviving spouse of the decedent, if he or she is competent.
  • A surviving and competent adult child, or the majority of the surviving and competent adult children if there is more than one surviving child.
  • A surviving competent parent or parents of the decedent.
  • A surviving and competent adult sibling, or the majority of the surviving and competent adult siblings if there is more than one surviving sibling.
  • A surviving competent adult person or persons who are in the next degree of kinship to the decedent, as determined under California law. If there is more than one such person, then a majority of those persons shall have the authority.
  • A conservator of the person, if one was appointed over the decedent.
  • A conservator of the estate, if one was appointed over the estate.
  • A public administrator.

Rights Over the Control and Burial of a Decedent’s Body

Once the appropriate person is determined for controlling the decedent’s remains, he or she has the following rights with regard to how they should be handled:

  1. The right to control the disposition of the person’s remains.
  2. The right to choose the location and conditions of the burial or interment.
  3. The right to make arrangements for funeral goods and services to be provided.

If you have concerns about the way a loved one’s remains are to be handled during an estate administration, it is important to take action quickly before it is too late to be reversed.

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The Grossman Law Firm, APC · · (951) 523-8307