The body and burial disputes
Produced in partnership with Jonathan Edwards of Radcliffe Chambers
The body and burial disputes

The following Wills & Probate guidance note Produced in partnership with Jonathan Edwards of Radcliffe Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • The body and burial disputes
  • Entitlement to possession of a corpse
  • The deceased’s ability to enforce their wishes
  • Personal representatives with disputed status or who cannot agree
  • Displacing the personal representative’s role
  • Orders during the deceased’s lifetime
  • Transportation outside the jurisdiction
  • Timing
  • Unusual methods of disposal
  • Ceremonies
  • more

The legal principles which apply where there is a civil dispute between parties about the disposal of the body of a deceased person are considered, including the transportation of the body out of the jurisdiction, the timing and mode of disposal and the ceremonies to be carried out. Naturally, the emotional stakes in these disputes are often high.

Entitlement to possession of a corpse

It is well known that in English law ‘there can be no property in the dead body of a human being’, as stated by Kay J in Williams v Williams. For that reason, a provision in the deceased’s Will that the body be given by the executors of the Will to another person was of no effect. In general, the same principle applies also to parts of bodies as stated in R v Kelly, although the same case recognised the existence of exceptions.

This statement of principle that there can be no property in a corpse is generally accurate. Instead of rights analogous to proprietary rights to chattels, the entitlement to possession of a human body is determined by special rules.

These are rules for the disposal of the body and governing what may be done with the body in the meantime. An example of rules concerning what may be done with the body are the statutory regimes