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Sharing Cremation Ashes: Unforeseen Family Feuds

by Jerri Haaven, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant

"Family Feud" image by omiksernaj 

Image by omiksemaj*

What happens when a spouse of the deceased chooses not to share the cremation ashes? Usually, nothing happens unless other family members want to keep some of the ashes. Unfortunately, that’s when conflicts and hard feelings can arise.

The death of a family member or loved one often profoundly affects survivors. Yet, while dealing with the enormous loss, survivors typically find themselves in unchartered - and sometimes stormy - waters.

A recent episode of the CBS sitcom “Mom” comically illustrates the conundrum of sharing ashes. The show presents an absurd situation about a woman who wants to hold on to the last bit of a tangible presence of her loved one. In the show, she steals her lover’s cremated ashes from the man’s contentious ex-wife. In a moment of dark humor, the woman empties the ashes into a lunchbox thermos to keep for herself. Then, she fills the urn with Grape-Nuts to return to the man’s ex-wife.

Not only does the show suggest a thermos can be used as a cremation urn, but it also indicates the unforeseen feuds that happen around sharing ashes. At OneWorld Memorials, we can offer you a nicer urn alternative than a metal thermos for mom’s ashes. But, first, let’s explore the drama and complications that can arise when planning a loved one’s memorial.

Important decisions need to be made when someone passes away. For example, will the deceased be cremated? Without the benefit of a Last Will and Testament or instructions for the disposition of the cremains, survivors might struggle with how to memorialize their loved ones.

End of Life Conflicts in Blended Families

With blended families, additional stressors complicate matters. For instance, surviving children of the deceased might make specific demands regarding their mom’s funeral or memorial. They might want to purchase keepsake urns, divide their mom’s ashes and take a small portion home. Or, they might choose cremation jewelry in which a pinch of their mother’s ashes can be housed in a necklace or bracelet. But if spouse #2 or #3 of the deceased has other ideas, the final say becomes contentious.

Who Has the Legal Right to Cremation Ashes?

In 2006 after months of legal wrangling, the ashes of Kirby Puckett, former Minnesota Twins outfielder, were awarded to his siblings. They, in turn, ensured Puckett’s minor children would receive them. Although Puckett had instructions to be cremated, it was not stated what to do with his ashes. Therefore, the trial judge had to take into account the testimony of his fiancé, his ex-wife and his siblings, who stated their understanding of Puckett’s wishes.

Additionally, state laws had to be considered since Puckett died in Arizona but was cremated in Minnesota. In the end, since Puckett was not married and had no adult children or living parents, his siblings had the right to final disposition, and his ashes were given to his minor children.

Individual state laws might apply for disagreements among survivors and in the absence of a will or directive that specifies the disposition of cremation ashes. Florida law, for example, states that the “surviving spouse or next of kin has the right to a decedent's body to dispose of as they see fit. When the will is silent, common law grants this right.” (“Ashes to Ashes: Comparative Law Regarding Survivors’ Disputes Concerning Cremation and Cremated Remains” by Florida International University College of Law eCollections @ FIU Law Library)

There are several online end-of-life planning services to help people in the decision-making process. For a fee, you can download a final Last Will and Testament and customize it to suit your needs. OneWorld Memorials does not endorse one site over any other. Everplans, for example, states that if the deceased’s wishes are stated in a Last Will and Testament, Living Will or other notarized legal documents, then those wishes must be upheld.

Everplans cautions about the possibility of extra drama that can arise without the benefit of written instructions: “If the deceased didn't make any preferences legally known, then the decision falls to the next-of-kin (nearest relative). If the next of kin is unavailable or unable to make decisions of this nature, the next of kin hierarchy is followed until someone who is able to make these decisions can be found.”

For a person to qualify as next of kin, statutes generally refer to the surviving spouse, blood relatives, adopted children, and adoptive parents in a hierarchical manner.

When all else fails and the last wishes cannot be carried out per the deceased’s request, then families may want to consider bringing in a mediator to help settle disputes.

The Final Say

Whether the death was caused by a life-threatening illness, an accident or natural causes, the shock to survivors cannot be underestimated. Stating your wishes before you die can avert family conflicts and ensure that you have the final say. Our planning guide, “Preplanning and Prepaying Cremation Costs," provides detailed information and a checklist to assist you.

Choosing an Urn for Dad or Mom’s Ashes

OneWorld Memorials is here to help you through your grieving process, from planning a memorial to choosing the perfect urn. Once conflicts have been resolved, it’s time to select the ideal cremation urn that reflects your loved one’s life and passions. Whether you choose to divide the ashes for everyone in the family or to have them interred in a cemetery, we hope you find the perfect urn here.

Keepsake urns are an excellent way to pay tribute to your loved one with an artistic or unique urn. These urns are ideal for dividing Dad or Mom’s ashes into multiple, small urns to distribute to the family. Our smallest keepsakes are found in our cremation jewelry section. These cremation pendants are the perfect way to keep the ashes of a loved one close to your heart. In addition, many of our urns can be customized with a personal inscription or engraved accessory.

We also offer a wide selection of traditional urns in timeless materials. Browse our selection of metal, marble and cloisonne urns to find the perfect color, material and size for your departed loved one. From urns for scattering ashes to biodegradable memorial tree urns, we have a wide selection of high-quality urns to honor all the precious memories you shared.

* Image: http://bit.ly/1SudiP0

Jerri Haaven is a freelance writer, and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant. When caring for her dad, who suffered from dementia and COPD, Jerri struggled with the negative side effects of his illness. She developed positive outlets to express herself and recover from her loss. Today as a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant, she uses her skills to help people who are in the midst of their own personal story of grief and loss.