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Estates & Wills & Trusts

Funeral dispute caused by unclear final wishes

By Charles Ticker

A recent story I found online about a transatlantic funeral dispute confirms how important it is to have an up-to-date estate plan in place before death.

The story is about a World War 2 veteran who passed away at the age of 97 in 2016. The veteran died in the United Kingdom after living the majority of his life in the United States. He had been briefly married in the U.K. in 1944 but later remarried in the U.S. The man divorced his American wife after 60 years of marriage at the age of 92. He then moved back to East Sussex in the U.K.

The funeral dispute arose because the man did not set out instructions as to where he wanted to be buried. The British side of his family wanted him buried in the U.K. in a plot selected by his former wife.

His daughter had to obtain an injunction because she wanted him buried in the U.S. The American side of his family’s position at trial was that the man purchased a plot in Connecticut and wanted his entire family to be buried there. His son was also buried there in 2009.

Funeral dispute went to trial but settled out of court

Fortunately for all the parties involved, this funeral dispute was settled out of court. The parties should now be able to move on from the fight and properly grieve the man’s death. If the dispute had not settled, it could have dragged on without allowing for a timely burial.

A person’s last wishes with respect to their burial should be clearly stated and known by their executors and closest relatives. Bereaved family should not have to battle with each other to determine where a deceased relative should be buried. If the deceased has lived in different countries or continents, legal advice should be sought with respect to a will and a proper estate plan. A person should not leave his or her final affairs disorganized because this can lead to unexpected legal fights among family members and legal costs.

This story is an excellent example of why final wishes must be clear and in writing.

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