Florida Decides Question: Are Person’s Remains ‘Property’?
This past May, a Florida appellate court had the opportunity to decide a rather strange new question regarding estate law. The case, Wilson v. Wilson came about after a 23-year-old man was killed in a car accident. He died without a will and left no written or verbal instructions regarding how he wanted his body disposed of.
In the absence of this direction, his divorced parents agreed to cremate their son, but could not agree on where to bury his ashes. His mother wished for them to be buried in West Palm Beach, while his father argued that the remains should be put in his family’s Georgia burial plot.
Because the parents could not agree on how to spread the ashes, they took their dispute to court. Central to their respective legal arguments was the question of whether remains are property. The father wanted them declared as property so that they could divide the ashes and each could do as they desired. The mother, on the other hand, objected to this division on religious grounds.
The trial court refused to label the remains as property and would not order them to be divided. Instead, it ordered the parents to reach an agreement on their own and determine what to do with the ashes within 30 days. In the event they could not reach an agreement, the court stated that it would appoint a curator to make the decision.
The father appealed the ruling and took the case to the Florida appellate court. Without proper precedent on the question, the court was left to dig through archaic case law for direction on whether a person’s remains could be deemed property for disposal purposes. Ultimately, it upheld the trial court’s decision and declared that a person’s remains were not property. Instead, the remains were seen the same as a decedent’s body and the parents had to reach an agreement on disposition as co-personal representatives of their son’s estate.
This case marks a difficult battle between two bereaved parents and underscores the fact that it is never too early to create a will in which your personal wishes are clearly outlined in a written document. A Tampa estate planning lawyer with BaumannKangas Estate Law. can assist with drafting your will.