Who owns my body when I die?

February 12th 2021

The simple answer is that no one owns your body when you die.  It is an old legal principle that there is no property in a dead body.

There are certain people who have a statutory duty to deal with your body on your death, in particular the hospital where you die.  The Coroner too can order that a body is retained until investigations are complete.  However, the primary duty to dispose of a body is down to the personal representative or the executors.  Should there br no one who is able to dispose of the body (under the strict sequence of entitlement under the Intestacy Rules) the local authority must dispose of it.

Controlling what happens to your body after death?

If you wish to control what happens to your body you need to write a Will appointing executors.  It is helpful to your executors if you set out your wishes in your Will or in a letter with your Will, because executors have broad discretion and are the trustees of your body on your death.   

They have to consider what is appropriate and therefore will look at the Will for your requests, listen to the opinions of relatives and consider any points that may have been raised by you during your lifetime.

What if there is a dispute about a dead body?

Problems arise if no Will has been signed, because it could be that there are two people equally entitled to deal with your body under the sequence of entitlement of the Intestacy Rules.  For instance, your children might strongly disagree between them about what should happen to your body.  There have been cases where divorced parents have taken the matter to Court to decide where their child’s body should be buried. 

How are disputes regarding a dead body resolved?

The added pressure with disagreements like this is the need to act quickly.  A body cannot sit at the funeral directors indefinitely and decisions have to be made with regard to ashes.  Sometimes mediation is appropriate in these types of scenarios but arranging a mediator that everyone is happy with can take too long. 

The best option is to sign a Will appointing executors.  Those executors will be in charge of your body when you die and if there are any disagreements between an executor and the family, the executor’s decision will be final.

Next steps

Lucy Gordon is a Director and Head of the Private Client practice at Spratt Endicott Solicitors, to contact Lucy regarding anything discussed in this article please email lgordon@se-solicitors.co.uk.

*Disclaimer: While everything has been done to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this article, it is a general guide only. It is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be sought in relation to the particular facts of a given situation. The information is accurate at date of publication, 12th of February 2021.