New York Decedent’s Burial Can Be Complicated By Conflicts Between Family Members and Guardians

The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has previously discussed issues regarding the rights of relatives to make burial decisions regarding a decedent. New York Public Health Law Section 4201 entitled “Disposition of remains: responsibility therefore”, provides a framework for this decision-making by essentially giving priority to a decedent’s spouse and closest living relatives in descending order to determine disposal of the remains.

Notwithstanding the statute, a person may put into place his or her desires by pre-paying for a funeral or cremation, purchasing a burial plot or otherwise expressing in a Last Will certain desires or preferences.

Of course, situations constantly arise when survivors, whether relatives or fiduciaries such as guardians, have conflicting ideas as to the disposal of the decedent’s remains. Such was the situation in The Matter of Louis V.P., which was decided by New York State Supreme Court Justice Joel K. Asarch on February 22, 2011. In this case Louis V.P. was determined to be an incapacitated person under Article 81 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law. Guardians for his personal needs and property management were appointed. When Louis died at age 86, his sister, Vita, wanted Louis to be cremated. Vita was also a co-guardian of Louis’ property. However, Louis’ niece, Grace, who was Louis’ personal needs guardian, desired that Louis be buried in the cemetery burial plot that he had purchased approximately 35 years ago.

After considering all of the evidence, the Court noted that the desires of a decedent “regarding the disposition of his or her own remains are paramount….” The Court thus ruled that Louis was to be buried in the burial plot he had purchased since that was the method he apparently intended.

In another recent burial controversy reported in the New York Post on Thursday, March 17, 2011 by William J. Gorta, “Brooklyn heirs burned in cremation flap“, a Court ruled that a decedent’s third wife could not sue a funeral home and cemetery for having a decedent’s remains cremated at the direction of the decedent’s fourth wife. Apparently, the family was unaware of the fourth marriage.

Family conflicts can take many forms following a decedent’s death ranging from burial directions to Will contests and identification of distributees through kinship proceedings. I have represented clients in New York to help them resolve these issues and protect their family’s rights.

New York Probate attorney Jules Martin Haas has represented clients in New York including Nassau and Suffolk Counties in Probate and Surrogate’s Court matters over the past 30 years. If you or anyone you know is involved in or has a question about these proceedings, please call me at (212) 355-2575 for a free consultation to discuss your rights.

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