Rights of adult child to view parent's body at mortuary?
April 20, 2015 9:51 AM   Subscribe

A family friend is hanging around Atlanta, GA right now trying to figure out what her rights are to see her father's body. The father's wife, who she has never met, has set a "restriction" at the mortuary.

My friend is a 20 year old woman who has not seen her father since she was a young girl, when her parents separated. She has had little relationship with her father since, and has not met the wife before. It sounds like the wife is restricting her because of a misunderstanding about who can claim the remains. My friend was told that no family had claimed the body yet, so she offered to do so. Then the wife came into the picture and was upset by her involvement, even though my friend had no desire to challenge the wife's access to the remains. So, it sounds like there was a misunderstanding, compounded of course by grief.

Now the wife has placed the restriction and my friend is trying to figure out if she has any legal recourse to see the body. She doesn't want to get charged with trespassing, but she is heartbroken at the thought of not saying goodbye. Does anyone have any idea what she should do?
posted by AwkwardPause to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The simplest answer is to speak with the wife. Has your friend done that yet? Since it's all a misunderstanding, it would seem a simple conversation would clear things up and fix this unless there's some crucial piece of information missing here (like ugly history between your friend's father and your friend's mother that would make the wife suspect your friend of bad or dangerous intentions, for instance). Perhaps your friend could ask someone at the mortuary to help advocate for what is an extremely simple and understandable request.
posted by phunniemee at 10:00 AM on April 20, 2015

So, it sounds like my friend has tried directly smoothing things over, but so far it hasn't changed anything. There is a person at the mortuary who is trying to work out a solution, and we're really hoping that that will resolve it. But she wants a planin place in case the wife doesn't change her mind.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2015

Is there a wake? Would she be ok with the only time that she sees the body be at the viewing?
posted by clone boulevard at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2015

I think she would be ok with that, but it sounds like there is no wake.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:17 AM on April 20, 2015

This may sound like overkill, but the quickest way for her to learn her rights would be to consult a lawyer who's already handled this sort of situation.
posted by wonton endangerment at 10:35 AM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is there a lawyer in charge of the estate? And is there a way for her to get in touch with that lawyer? It's possible that the lawyer for the estate might be able to help smooth things over, although that might be a long shot.

Failing that, I agree that the suggestion to consult a lawyer is likely the best choice if she wants a definitive answer.

If she doesn't want to go to a lawyer, is there any family member or family friend who might be able to help mediate this situation?
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2015

Time is not on the side of your friend. A cremation or immediate burial may happen very quickly (within 30 hours of death), so a lawyer may not be speedy enough.

The best course of action is to appeal to the funeral director handling the case. Have him act on your friend's behalf to clarify the misunderstanding and appeal to the decency of the new wife to allow they moment of closure. Stress that half an hour is all your friend requires. Make sure new wife understands that your friend has no ulterior or financial motives. Most people will do the right thing unless there is a history of conflict. If I was the funeral director, I'd do everything I could to make this happen.
posted by ColdChef at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2015 [15 favorites]

Does anyone have any idea what she should do?

She should back off. It's completely inappropriate for someone who hasn't seen the deceased since childhood to step in and start making demands in order to satisfy some idiosyncratic notion of "saying goodbye." Clearly the man's spouse should have final say over whether the body can be viewed or not, and it sounds like the spouse has made that decision. The attempt to "claim" the body adds a further bizarre wrinkle that almost certainly has everyone on guard against your friend. You should advise her to respect whatever the wife has decided; this is not the time for a power struggle that your friend will lose. She can say goodbye at a closed casket just as well as she can at an open one.
posted by jayder at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yes, it sounds like the cremation may happen in the next few hours. The woman in charge of the father's cremation has tried speaking to the wife, but so far she hasn't changed her mind. I will see if there is a director to speak to...
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2015

She can say goodbye at a closed casket just as well as she can at an open one.

I disagree completely. It may matter to her a great deal.
posted by Zarkonnen at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

My cousin is a funeral director and his advice mirrors that of ColdChef's. Kind thoughts to your friend; I hope she gets this sorted out.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a sad story.

All the advice to engage the funeral director sounds right to me. But in the end, it's possible that your friend may not get what she hopes for here, both because she may not have a right to this and because asserting one may grow very ugly very quickly. It might be the supportive-friend advice at some point to encourage her to focus on what she can control, which may mean making peace without directly seeing the body, as sad as that is. This may be a situation where if common sense cannot prevail, the benefits of starting a battle to force this issue would rapidly diminish relative to the damage done.

Again, I'm so sorry this is happening, and hope the current spouse can be brought around.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:40 AM on April 20, 2015

Probably not enough time to help this person, but for future reference:

Laws regarding funerals differ wildly from state to state and even from county to county. If it's not your local area, a good idea is to call one of the large corporate funeral homes in the area and put it to them as a hypothetical. The corporate firms usually have the law covered better than the family firms (deeper pockets, more prone to suits). In Louisiana, ALL next of kin have rights to death certificates, but disposition of the body goes to the immediate next of kin only.

Death can be a time of healing and forgiveness, but it can also be a time of settling old scores and re-opening old wounds. I hope your friend finds the peace they need.
posted by ColdChef at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks very much for the advice, everyone. It sounds like her father has now been cremated and she did not end up getting to see him. She is very sad, but at least knows she tried. She did her best to avoid negative drama, while also advocating for herself. I am impressed with how thoughtful and level-headed she has been throughout this process, especially considering the grief she is experiencing.
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:17 PM on April 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

[Couple comments removed; this needs to not turn into random commentary/chatter on the situation.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:08 PM on April 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

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