Dear Ms. Allison: My dad and mom are still legally married. He passed away in another state and his girlfriend of 3 years has his ashes. She won’t even give us none of his ashes or none of his belongings. I am his kid, so can I sue her for his ashes? Or how would I go about getting his ashes? He’s been gone for 2 years now. I’ve been fighting with her for the whole 2 years over his ashes, and she won’t give us none. He has 2 more kids that wants his ashes too. Help me please. I need his ashes. Thanks. Anonymous in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Anonymous:

If your parents were still married when your father died, your mother is legally entitled to his ashes and she can sue to recover them if she wishes. She is legally entitled to inherit from him as well, regardless of what other arrangements he may have made, unless they had a prenuptial contract that spelled out different terms. Unless your father disinherited you and his other children, you have a right to inherit from him as well. If your mother or you kids are the beneficiaries of any accounts or life insurance, of course you all would have a right to those.

The girlfriend does not have a legal right to the ashes or his estate, unless they bought property together and were both on the title of that joint property. As a joint owner, she might have a right to property or bank accounts they owned together. If he made her a beneficiary of any accounts or insurance policies, she has a right to those.

Your family may need to engage an estate litigation lawyer to sue her for what is yours. This can be expensive and can make things even more quarrelsome and hostile between you and the girlfriend. Litigation means a lawsuit and it can go on much longer than the two years you’ve already invested and lost.

Another, faster, friendlier, and less costly option is estate mediation. Your family and the girlfriend would have to all agree to work with a mediator who would listen to all sides and help you figure out a solution. The mediator can put you in separate rooms and go back and forth between you, if you can’t face each other. You and she can have your attorneys present to advise you, however, they cannot negotiate for you. It is key that everyone is willing to work together on a solution. Mediation won’t work if you don’t all agree to share the solution and abide by the settlement agreement developed in the mediation. The mediator will keep the solution options in front, so that no one gets bogged down by emotional distractions. She will facilitate or help you arrive at agreement over the settlement terms. The agreement will be in writing with details of how and when things must be done. You will all sign it. It is enforceable when written properly, and signed.

I am both an estate litigation lawyer and an estate mediator, so if I can help, please give me a call.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered. My best to you,

Gale Allison


  1. Levi Armstrong on June 22, 2020 at 5:59 am

    Gale, it’s interesting to know that a person who’s not legally married to their partner does not have any right to keep the ashes of their live-in partner. I’ve been watching a lot of legal drama shows during quarantine, and it really boils my blood to hear about these individuals who keep their partner’s remains from their children. If I ever get into this situation, I would definitely call an estate litigation lawyer to sue the person as soon as possible. Thanks for this!

    • Sharee Wells on June 23, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Levi. Since you are in estate administration, I’m sure you know that I am talking from the perspective of an Oklahoma lawyer to an Oklahoma resident. Because each state makes its own inheritance rules, if this happens to you or your clients in California (or any other state, for that matter) be sure to engage an estate litigation lawyer licensed in that state to be sure you are following the applicable laws. Thanks again for weighing in! Gale Allison

  2. Mari Relue on September 25, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    My father passed away in May and my siblings pressured me to sign the form to have him cremated. We were supposed to rotate every 3 months on keeping his ashes because there are 4 of us. Now my eldest brother doesn’t want to give them up. He says he wants him buried now but had no intention of doing so until I asked for them. He’s always been very controlling and this has destroyed our family. Do the 4 of us all have equal rights to my father’s ashes? Please help.

    • Gale Allison on September 30, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      Dear Mari:
      I am so sorry for your pain. I don’t really have enough information here to fully address your situation, but a general answer is: Assuming there is no spouse, all children have equal rights to determine funeral plans, including what is to be done with the remains.

      However, there is no need to continue in misery over this. It sounds like mediation is a really good option here to restore peace in the family. A neutral 3rd-party, the mediator, hears all sides and helps you settle on something fair you can all agree to do. For it to work, all parties to the dispute do have to agree to participate in the mediation. You can learn more on my website

      I mediate via Zoom meetings, so you don’t even have to leave your homes or be together for the discussions. By all means, contact me for more information on how mediation works.”

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