Last wishes can be source of family disputes
February 19, 2018

Many years ago my mother casually mentioned to me that she wanted to be cremated when she dies. My step-father was alive at the time and he was adamantly against this. My mother’s health is failing and I have told my step-siblings of my mother’s wishes. Their beliefs are in line with their late father’s and they are saying since there is nothing in writing stating my mother wants to be cremated this should not happen. I am listed as my mother’s Health Care Power of Attorney in the family trust so I feel I am the only person to make the final decision on this matter. Am I wrong to take this stance?

A:  It would be comforting to believe families naturally become united in grief, this isn’t always the case. You are not the first nor will you be the last person to encounter conflict with relatives regarding the final death decision. Odds are most funeral homes have been caught up in family disputes over the disposition of a body when relatives can not/will not agree on the arrangements.

Your family obviously has conflicting opinions over the traditional burial with casket versus cremation. You appear to feel strongly your mother’s wishes should be respected and followed. The opposition of other family members may be a result of religious or cultural values. They could possibly be taking this stance knowing your late step-father did not approve of cremation or in the worse scenario previous family issues could be resurfacing.

One might think what the deceased wanted will be honored, this isn’t always true. Above all else what you should focus on is preventing one side or the other from taking legal action. Regardless of the outcome someone will be unhappy and the rift in relationships may be irreparable. There are a few steps to take in hopes everyone can come to an agreement while your mother is still with you. If she is capable perhaps she should voice her wishes to everyone as a whole, obviously speaking with you in the past is not sufficient. Bringing in a professional to deal with conflict resolution may be a move in the right direction. Make every attempt to consider ways to compromise. If your mother is not opposed to the ashes being buried (in the family plot) rather than scattered this may appease your step-siblings. Are you willing to allow them to take the lead on planning religious or memorial services? Put emotions aside as much as possible and think of ways to collaborate with your family.

While this conflict may be extremely disturbing you do have time to try and work out your differences. Dealing with disagreements after your mother’s death would be even more difficult due to the intense, immediate emotions of her passing.


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Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., AgeInfo Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

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