Body, Body, Who Gets the Body? The Resolution of Bodily Remains Cases

7 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2009 Last revised: 17 Sep 2009

See all articles by James T. R. Jones

James T. R. Jones

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Date Written: June 12, 2009


What do celebrity Anna Nicole Smith; Godfather of Soul James Brown; baseball immortals Ted Williams and Kirby Puckett; artist Mark Rothko; some United States service members killed in the Iraq War; and even the Reverend and Mrs. Billy Graham have in common? All have been the objects of disputes over who controls final disposition of their mortal remains. Those, in turn, have brought into public scrutiny an ancient legal issue - who decides the place and method of disposal of the bodies of the dead. From antiquity, the law was ordinarily careful to honor the written or oral directions of the deceased. If a decedent did not express a preference, then burial was determined by the surviving spouse, and if there were none by the next of kin. The abstracted article reviews the various disputes involving those listed above, as well as some less famous individuals. It concludes attorneys strongly should encourage their clients to state, either in their wills or other written documents, their choice for burial arrangements. Lacking that, they at least orally should indicate their desires on that subject to their next of kin. Doing so can avoid unseemly post-mortem disputes which can turn what should be a solemn and dignified process into a circus-like sideshow event.

Keywords: Anna Nicole Smith, James Brown, Ted Wiliams, Kirby Puckett, Mark Rothko, Reverand Billy Graham, dead bodies, burial rights, determination of place of burial, burial right disputes, interment of dead bodies

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Jones, James T. R., Body, Body, Who Gets the Body? The Resolution of Bodily Remains Cases (June 12, 2009). Wealth Strategies Journal 2.0, April 10, 2009, University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2009-08, Available at SSRN:

James T. R. Jones (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States
502-852-6973 (Phone)
502-852-0862 (Fax)

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