Do I Have The Right To My Dad’s Ashes?

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

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