Unusual funeral wishes – are they legally enforceable?

Suzanne Mynors, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, private client team.
Suzanne Mynors
2 min Read

For many, death is a sombre inevitability. Others, however, embrace it as an opportunity to direct their nearest and dearest to throw a lavish party, dress in outrageous costumes, or sail out to sea to scatter their ashes.

It's important to note that unusual funeral requests aren't always legally enforceable. However, as long as it’s written down and it’s not illegal, you can ask your friends or family to do pretty much anything you want to commemorate your passing.

One of the most infamous requests ever recorded is that of one Dr Harold West, who instructed that a steel stake be driven through his heart following his death to ensure that he did not return as a vampire.

Perhaps you have heard of famed magician Harry Houdini’s final wishes. He instructed his wife to conduct a séance annually on the anniversary of his death, should he wish to communicate with her from the other side (he never did, and she gave up after ten years of trying).

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham left detailed instructions in his will for the preservation of his head and skeleton. He directed that his remains should be dressed in a suit, seated in a chair, and displayed in a cabinet on the University College London campus. This is precisely what happened, and his body has been on display ever since. UCL did eventually replace his real head with a wax one due to decay and to dissuade students from stealing it all the time. Bentham’s wishes didn’t stop there, either - his body sat in on meetings of the university board for 92 years!

Far more common are detailed instructions for dealing with a deceased’s ashes. Fredric Baur, the inventor of the Pringles tube, instructed that his ashes be placed in – you guessed it – a Pringles tube. Mark Gruenwald, a writer and editor at Marvel Comics, had his ashes mixed in with some ink which was used to print a copy of Squadron Supreme.

Of course, not all funeral wishes are quite so outlandish. It is very common for individuals to leave some guidance for their funeral. Some common requests are:

  • funeral attendants to wear bright colours rather than black
  • letters from family to be placed in the casket
  • ashes to be made into jewellery
  • ashes to be scattered somewhere meaningful to the family, such as at sea. Rules around scattering ashes are quite flexible in the UK, but many popular locations have guidelines for scattering which must be followed, so it is best to check first.

Whatever your wishes, the private client team at Russell-Cooke can advise on the best way to ensure that they are followed. Please contact a member of the team (020 3826 7550), alternatively, please complete our online enquiry form.

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