A recent Washington case illustrates why it’s prudent to specify how and where you want your body disposed of after death if you really want to rest in peace ever after.
Kyril Faenov left a wife and two young children when he committed suicide. His widow and her father arranged and paid for the burial of his remains in a Seattle cemetery. However, Kyril had forgotten to leave written instructions concerning his place of burial before committing suicide.
Two years he’d been laid to rest when Kyril’s mother filed a petition in King County Superior Court seeking permission to exhume his body so that she could bury his remains in Portland, Oregon. His widow objected.
Together, the parties submitted more than 600 pages of materials to the court including a declaration from a law school professor concerning the proper interpretation of the governing Washington statute submitted by Kyril’s mom. The trial court and, later, the court of appeals all held that Kyril’s widow had the right to decide how and where to dispose of Kyril’s body. Reinterment of Remains, 194 Wn. App. 42 (2016). As the court noted, if Kyril had given written instructions concerning the disposition of his remains after death, those instructions would have had precedence over the inclinations of both his widow and his mother.
It is disturbing that this was not a case of first impression in Washington’s appellate courts. On the contrary, in deciding the dispute between Kyril’s widow and his mother, the court pointed to the case of Woods v. Woods, 48 Wn. App. 767 (1987) in which the decedent’s mother, after first agreeing with the decedent’s father concerning the disposition of their son’s cremated remains, changed her mind and decided she wanted to exhume those remains and dispose of them differently than earlier agreed. In Woods, the court held that each parent had the same right to control the disposition of their son’s remains so that the court would permit the mother to rescind her earlier agreement with the father.
In fact, there’s even a legal treatise by Percival E. Jackson, The Law of Cadavers and of Burial and Burial Places (2d ed. 1950) which the court also cited in the Reinterment case.