Widow Takes Priority in Dispute Concerning Accident Victim’s Burial

Your relationship with your parents or other relatives may be of great importance to you but, if you are married, it is generally your spouse who will have the legal right to administer your estate in the event of your death. A judge made that point in ruling on an unusual dispute between a mother and a widow concerning the burial of a young man who died in a road traffic accident.

The man’s mother was adamant that he wished to be buried in his native Algeria and accused his widow of having secretly arranged his burial in Britain behind her back. She intended to apply to the Home Secretary for permission to exhume her son’s body so that it could be transported to Algeria. With that objective in mind, she sought a court order appointing her as administrator of her son’s estate.

The widow denied that she had acted furtively and asserted, amongst other things, that she had followed the advice of an imam by ensuring that her husband was buried as quickly as possible, in accordance with Muslim traditions. She argued that, as the deceased’s widow, she was perfectly entitled to override the wishes of his wider family and decide the manner of his burial.

In rejecting the mother’s application, the judge noted that the law specifically recognises that a spouse should have priority over any other family member when it comes to appointment as an administrator. Whilst a son may have a close relationship with his parents or siblings, the law deems the relationship between spouses to be of greater significance in the context of estate administration.

The judge could find no special circumstances which would make it necessary or expedient to appoint the mother as administrator of her son’s estate in place of his widow. He made a declaration concerning the name and identity of the deceased – which had been in dispute – but ruled that it was for the Home Secretary to decide whether he had been given a decent burial in Britain.

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