Have you ever thought about what will happen to your body and remains after you die? It’s an uncomfortable thing to picture, I realize, but it’s also very important. After your death, someone in your life will decide what happens to your body. You may want to be interred in a certain place. You might wish to have your remains cremated. You also may have specific desires on how a funeral service is supposed to be handle. All citizens have the right of sepulchre (sometimes spelled sepulcher), which is the right to “choose and control the burial, cremation, or other final disposition of a dead human body.” Giving someone your right of sepulchre is a serious decision, so it is important you understand the legal process and carefully choose who you would like to be responsible.
Missouri law provides an order of individuals who would automatically have the authority to make those decisions, but if the order is not in line with your wishes you should consider invoking your right of sepulchre. This involves signing a legal document outlining who has the authority to make decisions concerning the disposition of your remains. As always, we want our clients and their families to have control over their affairs, not the government.
The Right of Sepulchre
Here in Missouri, if you do not legally designate a person to make this decision, there is a statute that lists the order in which other people will be granted your right of sepulchre. So if you die without ever identifying who you would like to have your right to sepulchre, the following people (in the following order) will be given the right:
Your surviving spouse; then
Your child(ren); then
Your parent(s); then
Your sibling(s); then
Your nearest surviving relative; then, if no one is available
Any person who assumes financial responsibility for the disposition of your body
The county coroner or medical examiner
If the deceased is a minor, his or her parent(s) have the right of sepulchre. If only one parent has custody of the minor, that parent receives the right. If the parents have joint custody, the parent whose residence is the minor’s residence for purposes of mailing and education receives the right of sepulchre.
If you are not okay with this order or if you would like someone other than those listed above to have your right of sepulchre, you must specifically designate that person in a separate legal document. For example, if you are estranged from your family and would prefer to give your best friend the power, then you must appoint your friend and give them your right of sepulchre in your separate legal document. Or if you are single and would prefer to let your sister choose what happens to your body, you will need to designate her specifically so that the power doesn’t fall on your children or parents. Alternatively, if you are in a committed relationship that is not recognized by the state, then you would want to likely designate your partner to make these decisions.
Not all states have this same statute, so it is important that you consult a local attorney to learn what will happen if you do not designate a person to have your right to some states, there have been messy disagreements between family members after a loved one passed away because that person hadn’t considered who would have their right to sepulchre and the state’s laws were not so convenient and clear. For example, there have been instances where a person’s body was kept in a funeral home cooler for over a year because the person’s family could not agree on how to dispose of it. In one case, the funeral home finally had to appeal to the court so that they could dispose of the body (source).
If you live in Springfield, Missouri, and you need more help with this issue, contact the attorneys at Parks & Jones. We can prepare the proper documentation to ensure the wishes are followed after your death.