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Who Has the Right to Give Permission for Cremation?

Let us walk you through a possible scenario. 

After a 10 year bout with cancer, your sweet mother holds your hand and takes her last breath. You’ve been her caretaker and driven her to every single medical appointment for the last decade. It would have been so appreciated if your two siblings had taken time to reach out and pitch in with doctor visits and groceries and bills and yard work, all things that hung over your head morning and night. As you wore yourself thin and exhausted your mind and body to care for the same hands that once helped you with your homework and the same tender voice that talked you through your first broken heart with wisdom and love like no other, the realization has now set in that it is time to plan the ceremony to celebrate and honor your mother’s life.  You’ve been the only child present for the last 10 years, so you decide that you will be the decision maker at the funeral home regarding any arrangements that will be made. When the topic of cremation authorization comes up, your funeral director explains that different states have different requirements as to who can legally authorize the cremation to take place. Suddenly it occurs to you that your brother and sister, the same ones who never helped with mom when you needed them the most, are now needed to step in and sign to authorize the cremation the same way you will. Frustration and aggravation creep up to the surface as you ask how this is fair. These are moments where legal requirements and case precedent circumstances seem to trump common sense, fairness, and logical thought.  Let’s hope that both of my siblings will agree to mom’s wishes to be cremated. 

Clearly, no one wants to  experience this situation, but surprisingly more and more families are doing just that in today’s world. The right of disposition follows the legal chain of kinship in Georgia, meaning that the legal order for cremation authorization is as follows:  spouse, children age 18 and over, parents, and siblings. Cremation is considered a final form of disposition, which means it’s irreversible and must be decided upon with full legal consent and authorization. 

There is a way to avoid this kind of strained outcome. Durable power of attorney (POA) documents can be created that feature the Right of Disposition. Advance Medical Directives will also feature the Right of Disposition in most cases. These documents can only be prepared ahead of time, prior to the loved ones death. When there are difficulties concerning family dynamics and final wishes, these methods and documents are noticeably helpful. 

As we read about this situation, there’s another thought to consider.  Burial is not considered a final form of disposition and, therefore, in many cases does not carry with it the same liabilities and challenges from an authorization standpoint. Friends of the deceased can step into the picture and provide guidance and authorization to bury the deceased. Opposition to the burial can be voiced and acted upon with a disinterment, resulting in the loved one either being  removed from one grave and placed into another grave, or removed from one grave, cremated, and placed into another grave, or simply held out in a type of permanent urn for long term display. 

One thing to consider when looking to make the best decision for your family would be to arrange your family affairs ahead of time and have the appropriate paperwork in order. 

Peace of mind can come in many different forms, shapes, and sizes.  Creating safe and effective scenarios before your loved ones pass away is without a doubt one of the best ways to ensure this problem does not occur at the time of death.

Scott and Ellen Wynn McBrayer 
Jones-Wynn Funeral Homes & Crematory
Meadowbrook Memory Gardens