Moving the Body
Although rare, disputes over the final resting place of a deceased are not unheard of. Such a dispute was the subject matter of Mason v. Mason, a decision of the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick.
There, the deceased died at the age of 53. He was survived by his mother, and his wife of 13 months. At first, the relationship between the mother and the wife appeared to be harmonious. The mother wanted the son’s cremated remains buried next to his father, and the deceased’s wife agreed. Later, however, the wife had a change of heart, as she came to believe that her husband did not have a good relationship with his father. She asked the cemetery to agree to disinter the remains and have them buried in another cemetery. As the original plot was owned by the mother, the cemetery required the consent of the mother. The mother refused to consent.
The wife then applied for and obtained letters of administration. This would normally cloak her with the authority to dispose of the body. The wife then applied to court to exercise this right. The court refused to assist her.
The applications judge held that the administrator had the right to determine the proper burial or disposal of the remains. However, this right was limited to carrying out those actions. The applications judge concluded that the remains were properly dealt with, with the agreement of the mother and the wife. At the time, there was no administrator, and therefore the next of kin could determine the disposition of the body, which they did.
The wife argued that as administrator, she had an ongoing right to determine the burial place. Support for this proposition was found in the Saskatchewan case of Waldman v. Melville. There, the deceased’s sister wished to disinter the deceased, over the objection of the executor. The court held that “The rights of the executor continue after the burial of the body, otherwise it would be an empty right … and those who oppose the executor could disinter the body as soon as it was buried.”
The applications judge distinguished the Melville decision. The rights of an administrator appointed months after burial did not entitle the administrator to disrupt burial arrangements agreed to by the person in her capacity as spouse.
The Court of Appeal upheld the applications judge’s decision. They went on to hold that once the body was properly discharged, it could not be moved, under s. 15 of the Cemetery Corporations Act, without the written consent of the Medical Health Officer or the order of a judge. The Court of Appeal stated that the powers conferred on the court by s. 15 of the Cemetery Companies Act were discretionary in nature. A judge to whom an application is made under that section is required to consider and weigh all the circumstances and make the order he or she considers appropriate. In this case, the court found no valid reason for moving the body.
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