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Who has legal rights to cremains?

12 answers | Last updated: Jul 17, 2014
Who has legal rights to cremains? My spouse is deceased and we both wanted to be cremated. I have his ashes already sealed in the urn and memorial service is over. His children are now demanding I have the urn reopened so they may have some of his ashes. I have a spiritual problem with that, as I believe the ashes should remain all intact. Do they have a legal right to his cremains?

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50% helpful

Your state, Illinois, has a very specific law controlling who is entitled to control a deceased person’s cremated remains, also known as cremains.

It provides that the following people, See also:
How Does Cremation Work?

See all 230 questions about Final Arrangements
in the order listed, have the right to control them:

  • a person the deceased person designated in writing
  • the executor or legal representative of the estate, acting according to direction in the will
  • a spouse, and then
  • the majority of surviving competent adult children.

So unless your spouse left other instructions for distributing his cremains, in either his will or another writing, you are legally entitled to keep them as you see fit.

Take some time to explain to the children why you feel as you do and ask them to respect your beliefs. But also understand that they may find it personally important to have some lasting memento of their father. You might find out whether there is some other object they might enjoy having: perhaps a favorite book, hat, fishing pole, or golf club.


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22% helpful

I actually read a very interesting report on Wikipedia regarding religious reasons for and against cremation. Did you know that some Christians believe that you should not cremate because of the ideo/theology of the Resurrection? therefore I would think long and hard as to why you want to deny them having the ashes of the bones of the deceased. If you cannot quote specifically according to your "specific" religious belief as to why you are denying them, then I feel you are being mean spirited and resentful. Vengeance is mine said the Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do. may God forgive you.


80% helpful
Mechel.b answered...

I think that it is very important that the heart of the matter is looked at. For years there have been conflicting issues between step families. The new wife may feel threatened by her husband's children because she wants to be "first" in her husbands life. This is a normal feeling for any woman. A woman does not want to feel as though she falls 3rd in line when it comes to her husband's love and priorities. Even the childs natural mother wouldn't like this. At the same time, children may feel "pushed aside" when their father marries another woman. Thus, they may feel that this woman is "taking" their father away from them. Of course, no child should ever be made to feel this way. But...because of apparent jealousy issues, there tends to be a tug-of-war over dad's love and affection between the new step mom and children. This can go on throughout the lifespan of the new family system and unfortunately, tends to continue on after death. Although a spouse has the "legal" right over her husbands cremains, his children and their feelings should not be disregarded. This only continues on with the tug-of-war syndrome.

It is important to understand that we are talking about two kinds of love here. The love that a man has for his wife is completely different than the love that he has for his children. Although the love is different, they both hold equal value to the husband/father. In other words, there is enough love to go around for both his new wife as well as his children. Ma'am, your husband loved you immensely, but he loved his children very much, too.

As far as sharing your husbands cremains and your spiritual values, if you read your bible, you will see that Jesus always chose mercy over the law. There are many passages of Scripture proving this point. Read the whole chapter of Luke 6 and you will see for yourself. Luke 6:2-4 "And some of the Pharisees said to them, "Why are you doing what IS NOT LAWFUL to do on the Sabbath?" But Jesus answering them (in the disciples defense) said, "have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him; "how he went into the house of God, took and ate the show-bread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priest to eat?"

...Scripture proves that Jesus chose mercy over keeping the laws and customs much of the time. People were not made for the law, but the law was only meant to be a tutor to guide people into righteousness. When Jesus came to earth, the law was fulfilled and no longer needed because we are now under grace and the law of liberty - but we are not to take that liberty as a means to give us permission to sin. But again...we are not "bound" to laws anymore.

In the case of sharing the cremains, do you think that Jesus would break the heart of this man's children just to keep the law?... If a person truly knows the merciful heart of God, they would know that Jesus doesn't do this sort of thing.

I would say to find a way to make his children feel loved and to recognize that "in truth" - apart from the laws of this country, they hold a "position" as his biological children. This position should not be denied any less than your position as his widow.

Barb Pierce., M.S. Counseling Psychology


80% helpful
Fiona answered...

Most cremation societies have on display tiny versions of the urns for the cremains. When my Dad passed on, I had a tiny urn filled for my Mom (who had dementia) and for my brother. Now that Mom has passed on, I had one tiny urn filled for my brother and the rest of Mom is in a big urn on the piano that she bought for me when I was 8 years old and she started me on lessons. Some folks want part of themselves scattered in woods, or on bodies of water that have meaning to them. Some have their loved ones pressed into jewelry. Your late husband's children deserve your consideration. The cremains are just that, what is left behind. Surely your memories of your husband are what you treasure the most. Let the kids have tiny urns of him, to feel that he is with them still. Peace be with you.


100% helpful
CA-Claire answered...

I can understand the widow's concern about splitting up the ashes of her husband. My husband's children asked for nothing (once they knew there was no money), but when I made my husband's choices at Neptune Society (NS), arranging his cremation and disposition of his cremains, I took his children into account. Since My husband was a retired SSG in the US Army, I had some ashes put into a small statue that NS had which was an Eagle landing on a small tree with a US Flag draped on it - his son's each received one of those. For his daughter, I chose a small statue of a dolphin riding a wave with a small turtle and a couple starfish (he and I loved to snorkle in Jamaica). For myself, I have a square brushed nickel box that is about 10 square inches and about 3 inches high, which spins on a lazy susan type base. On top of that I have a life-size starfish which holds a small amount of his cremains. At some point, I will scatter the bulk of his ashes in Jamaica (whenever I can afford to go there), but until then, he is with me.

Personally, I do not worry about some of his cremains being scattered in different place, because Heavenly Father will resurrect us with complete whole perfect bodies when the time comes - Earthly limitations do not apply to the resurrection. However, I do recognize that this is my personal belief, so Vonna in Illinois is allowed to have her own beliefs - Keep your husband's ashes in the urn. Let the children know that they may fight over the ashes once you are gone, and make sure you have this covered in your estate plan.


75% helpful
cartucho answered...

If God organized matter and created the universe in 6 days, why would anyone think he couldn't organize the remaining matter of a cremated deceased person for the purpose of resurection.

In my case, a part of my wifes ashes were given to her children (my stepchildren). I have a very close relationship with them partially because I took into account their feelings. I don't think I could have it any other way.


Minnicente answered...

When my mother died 5 years ago she was cremated. My father insisted upon keeping her ashes on display in the dining room of the house that she loved and poured her heart and soul into in a box that he purchased from the funeral home. Since then he has taken two girlfriends hardly on the same level as my mother on tours through her magnificent home. Both have something in mind, he romances them on my mother's family money, yet refuses to bury her ashes. One of these women, whom my mother intensely disliked because she was the town courtesan who hid behind her position as church secretary. She went through a bitter divorce and her daughter tried committing suicide four times. Still, my father, who is not the best judge of character, insists that she is "highly respected," or at least according to his lawyer friend who made my father his BEST friend while planning his estate. So here are my mothers ashes on display in the dining room as my father marches his girlfriends through her house. He wants his cake and to eat it too. I am my mother's daughter. I live in Massachusetts. Do I really think that my mother would approve of what is happening to her ashes? I am certain that she died to get away from my father and still the poor thing can't escape him.


Minnicente answered...

Another response to Barb Pierce. I know of women who watch the obituaries to see what man has been recently widowed. In the case of who my father has taken up with, this woman, Dorothy, took up with a man named Herman in town before his wife's body was cold. My mother knew what this woman was about, and nicknamed her, many years before she died, Fritzi Ritz after the comic strip character. There are women who are after a pocket book and have no concern whatsoever for what the past-life may have been for a man who, without a wife who had intelligence and vision, would have been nothing. So she is to reap the benefits while the children who have lived the legacy are left out in the cold?

Any woman with any integrity who looks for a companion does not want marriage. If they want marriage look out, there is a reason for this. Period. The situation I and my sister find ourselves in now, at middle age, is frightening and disgusting. Our father has onset of dementia but nobody sees it yet, except for a few. He has become the most repuslive, womanizing old fool any prospective dame could hope to find, with millions at stake. Go figure. This issue can not be candy coated. And woe to the selfish, narcissistic woman who only thinks of herself and what she wants to do with the remains of some man she had hardly anything to do with. May she broil in hell.


100% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

My partner/husband recently passed away and was cremated. Upon his death, none of his children/daughters from a previous marriage wanted anything to do with the funeral let alone be around during his final hours and so I was left to arrange everything. Special Photos and favourite music of his past was not available as they were reluctant to provide it. They refused to turn up for the funeral. I took the initiative to organise everything including a simple obituary that the Funeral directors assisted me with and photos of the time I was with him (23 years). I only saw them about 10 times total during the 23 years. His youngest daughter under the directive of her sisters told me to split the cremains as they were not turning up for the funeral couple of days earlier. This all became apparent because before I knew what was going on, they all turned up in their party frocks who knew very little about the man as they left home in their teens. Out of respect, the cremains were split for memorial service but they had no intentions of returning it. However his Will stated that the cremains are to be returned to his homeland to be scattered. Which I will be doing - only the half I got. What is the law???? given that I am the executor and one of his children is a coexecutor. Have I really done the right thing... Two months later, they wanted me to pay for the entire funeral from my personal expenses and they refused to return the ashes. I was left bit distraught over the trickery and also the entire saga of preparing and they attempting to stop a funeral on accusations. Out of respect, the ashes were given to them to perform their own memorials. The funeral expenses were covered by his estate as he had written in his Will. At the wake, I was handed a list of items that was promised to them...according to their father. My Dearest Love has gone and he has been the most important and will be the most important person in my life. God please look after him and please make sure he finds the source of the heavenly white light. Each situation is different.... new woman/man accused of disinheriting the family and families neglecting the parent when he/she has been looked after by a loving person. This is really human nature at its worse. When the opportunity lends itself for each of us to be respectful and honourable during a loved ones lifetime, this is often abused. When another person comes to help, they are accused of being trying to win the love, steal his/her money... I was put in this situation as the man I loved was barely making ends meet when we first met and was financial and emotionally at his lowest point. I gave him everything including part of a house I had and he was the first person I ever loved and my first love.... I've always believed in karma and doing the right things with love and respect goes a long way.


Minnicente answered...

The diverse ideas shared here having to do with cremains helps me to reach one conclusion: Ashes are only symbolic and can not possibly be imbued with the spirit or soul of the departed.

I once worked in the gardens of a widely known museum, where people routinely dumped human cremains, identifiable because of the tags from the crematory still mixed in with the dust. Yes, it was creepy to find a pile of human ashes in the gardens, but in every religion we are somehow reminded that we come from, and return to - dust.

Holding on to ashes is an act of control. With death, the journey of this lifetime, however we have lived it, is over. So, by hoarding ashes, are we trying to prevent the dead from continuing on their soul's journey? How do ashes help us to grieve?


An anonymous caregiver answered...

My grandmother has my mother's ashes. I'm legally next of kin and she knows it. She refuses to give me her ashes. Can I pursue legal action against her for that?


CA-Claire answered...

Pursuing legal action against a relative, especially an older relative, is a lose-lose proposition. Tell your Grandmother that you respect her wishes to have your Mother's ashes, but that once she no longer feels the need to keep them, you would like to have them. She may opt to give them to you voluntarily. Remember, your Grandmother lost a daughter. You lost a parent, but a Mom's tie to a child is very strong.


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