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10 November 2016

“Cremation or burial? Who decides?”

On 2 November, the Catholic Church remembered and prayed for the dead on All Souls’ Day.

In advance of that date, at a press conference in Rome, the Church issued new guidelines on cremation (a practice which had been banned by the Church until 1963).

The new strict guidelines state that “…it is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewellery or other objects” and go on to state that those who request their ashes be scattered should be denied a “Christian Funeral”.

Whether Catholic or not, many of us have strong feelings about what they wish for their funeral, their body or their ashes.  Most people assume that if they leave instructions in either a Will or some other form of advanced instruction, these instructions will be followed.

However, in England and Wales funeral instructions contained in either a Will or some other advanced instruction are not legally binding.  Ultimately it is the personal representatives of a deceased (appointed in a Will or determined by the law of intestacy) who are entrusted with the body for the purposes of making funeral arrangements and it is them who have the ultimate say on what method of disposal of the body or ashes takes place.

So what can you do if you know exactly what you want and want those wishes to be carried out?  Probably the most important thing you can do is appoint someone as Executor under your Will who you know will feel morally bound to carry out your instructions.  You should also put your instructions in writing.  Funeral disputes are, sadly, becoming more common and funerals are often emotionally charged but you can take steps to ensure a disagreement over the funeral doesn’t make the grieving process for your family more difficult than it need be.