The Corpse of the Matter
Legal and financial professionals often talk about estate planning. It is important for the orderly transfer of wealth from one generation to the next to ensure that one’s will and property are properly organized, so that the beneficiaries of one’s estate will know what to do. This may prevent the infighting, uncertainty and confusion that can lead to litigation. There is one important thing, however, that cannot be disposed of by will – your body.
Some of the ugliest fights we encounter have to do with disagreements over funerals and burial. These decisions are deeply personal, and are often imbued with religious or spiritual importance. When trouble erupts within families over arrangements for the burial of their loved ones, these matters very quickly balloon into divisive, bitter disputes. In order to avoid this, it is of the utmost importance to make appropriate arrangements during your lifetime.
The law in Ontario has long been that it is the estate trustee who has the responsibility and the obligation to make arrangements for burial. Moreover, as a human body is not property, any wishes for burial expressed by way of will are merely precatory and are not legally enforceable. This creates a problem – how do you ensure that your wishes for burial will be followed?
One way to avoid fights over funeral or burial arrangements is to choose your estate trustee carefully. This might be another good reason to choose a spouse, sibling, child, or friend who you trust to carry out your wishes.
It may also be helpful to include your wishes in writing in your Will, or somewhere else that your family may find it. Even if not binding on the estate trustee, it may help to guide him or her in making the right decision, and may prevent those left behind from arguing over what it was you might have wanted.
As with most disputes, communication is critical to preventing quarreling later. Discuss your wishes with your family while you are alive and well. Make sure that everyone knows how you want your post-death arrangements to be handled, and why you have made your choices.
The range of choices for what to do with your remains is ever-expanding. As technology improves, more creative ways to deal with the issue of burial continue to arise. Adding QR codes to your headstone is now a possibility. Ian Hull has previously blogged about having your ashes chemically transformed into diamonds.
Whatever your wishes might be, traditional or high-tech, religious or unconventional, make sure that they are known to your estate trustee, and that your estate trustee is someone that you trust to follow them.