How to ensure you rest in peace

Year Published: 2013

There are still vast numbers of people who do not think about – and have not made plans – for what will happen to their own body when they die.

It is pragmatic to suggest that everybody should consider what they would like to happen and make plans, usually in the form of creating a will, to avoid others having to make these difficult decisions. In extreme cases, not making plans can cause great difficulties, as the following scenario illustrates.

It was reported in 2011 that a couple in Edinburgh could not be laid to rest because the council could not obtain the family’s consent to either bury or cremate their bodies.

The bodies of Eugenios Marcel (who died in 1987) and Hilda Marcel (who died in 1994) are still being kept at Edinburgh City Mortuary after being found in the basement of a former fishmonger’s in Polwarth. One of the two sons of the couple had kept the bodies in the basement of Gilmore Place as he had hoped to build a private mausoleum for his parents. During the protracted legal battle, the son moved away which complicated the matter further.

Professor Roderick Paisley (a law lecturer from Aberdeen University) commented that “The council has custody of these bodies so there is no issue of ownership”. “They have a statutory duty to dispose of bodies that are unclaimed. If the son has come forward, the council could feel obliged to consult with him but they don’t have to abide by his decision. If he was the executor he should have dealt with this a decade ago. When he effectively abandoned these bodies he gave up his right to do that.”

Whilst funeral wishes in a will are not legally binding for the reason that it may not be physically or legally possible to carry them out, it can help to prevent disputes between family members as the power to deal with a body vests with the executor. In the event of a dispute between the executors themselves, funeral wishes in a will can instil a moral obligation on your executors to carry out your final wishes and save your family from any further heartache following bereavement.

Even better still, it is now possible to pre-arrange and pay for your funeral so that on the production of a death certificate, the funeral director will make all the arrangements on your behalf. All you have to do is stipulate that you have a prepaid plan on your will.

An agreement is yet to be reached in the Marcel case but hopefully the couple will be able to rest in peace soon.

For further information on making a will, contact our Wills & Wealth Planning team on 01625 442148.

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