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Following The Deceased Wishes

When people think of this question they usually have a will in mind. It has become more common for people to invest in funeral insurance or pre-paid plans in recent years; these may also contain specifics concerning the type of service they would like and the funeral options such as flowers, cards, music etc.

It is important to stress that you are under no obligation to follow guidelines set by the deceased, although in theory there might be some circumstances where the refusal can be contested in court. (see later in article)

The appointed executor or administrator has the primary right to take charge of the body with the exception of 2 circumstances:


The coroner requests an examination of the body


The person died of a disease that may be infectious

The executor does have the right to take possession at the point of death. There are of course no legal obligations in the UK that require you to use the services of an undertaker, you are also not forced into holding a funeral. The bodies of the deceased are not infectious except under extremely rare circumstances. There is no law forcing you to accept responsibility for the person who has died, in the event that no person takes on the role, the body then become the responsibility of the state.

You are permitted to bury a deceased person on your own land but there are conditions that have to be met in order for this to be permitted:


An authorisation form from the Environmental Agency


The grave must be situated more than 10 metres from any field drain or dry ditches


A minimum of 50m from any well, borehole or spring supplying water for human consumption

(this includes private water supplies)


The burial must be recorded in a land burial register


A detailed, clear plan showing where the burial took place

(must be kept with deeds for the land and or property)

To this day English common law stipulates that there is no property in a dead body and the only lawful possessor of a corpse is the earth; this law was established in a time when a deceased body was deemed ‘worthless’.

In modern society the bodies of the dead do have value including medical applications, teaching aids, tissue and organ donation or as anatomical exhibits. It is important to understand that taking possession of a body is not the same as taking ownership.

There are laws detailing requirements for parties involved with the deceased.


A body may not be detained against settlement of a debt


There must be no prevention against a lawful and decent burial


An agency or person cannot refuse to deliver the body to the executors for burial


The disposal of a body to prevent an inquest is considered a serious breach


The sale of a body for dissection


Exposure of a body to the public to whit cause an infringement on public decency

When a person dies do I have to do what they asked for?

In the 1988 Human Rights Act, there was a legislative addition of some articles that theoretically could be tested under legal trial. Funeral wishes are very much not legally binding except the two articles in the 1988 Act could possibly be used as a means to force executors to carry out the wishes. A judge can under certain circumstances remove an executor or administrator who might be at odds with family members, executors and administrators.
If the person who died had strong religious values and convictions that may have been expressed in the way they wanted their funeral to be arranged; not following their requests might possibly be grounds for a court hearing.

Major disputes are less common, however there are legal procedures that can be invoked to arbitrate on issues such as:

  • Cremation – Have any near relatives or executors not been made aware of the proposed cremation?
  • Has any near relative or executor expressed any objection to the proposed cremation?
  • Burial – An objector can seek an injunction to stop it.
  • Ashes – Personal representatives may attend court to settle disputes concerning the destination of remains.

Through our experience, funeral related wishes are much more by way of helpful assistance to a family in bereavement than a hindrance. For a substantial majority of cases, having a set plan releases the burden of decision making from the family member or sometime close friend responsible for organising a funeral event.

Free Funeral Plan

If you would like to make use of our free funeral plan i.e. the funeral wishes form, please click on the button. As a result this will download a pdf copy to complete and print for your own records.