Funeral wishes dispute

Would very much welcome thoughts on the following situ:

  • Sarah (daughter of our client) died a few months ago. Beforehand she was told that due to Covid her funeral wish in her Will for her body to be donated to medical science could not be realised.

  • VERBALLY, she stated to her execs and her mum Liz (our client) she would Like to be cremated and scattered in 4 locations: 2 in UK; 2 in USA just before she died.

  • Sarah’s execs have refused to carry out the USA elements of Sarah’s verbal wishes on cost grounds - those wishes were not in the Will and they are (rightly) cautious of spending beneficiary money (including charity) on verbal wishes.

  • Our client - Liz - is Sarah’s elderly mum, in her 90’s. She is in poor health, absolutely grief stricken and not likely to be around much longer. She wants her ashes and Sarah’s ashes to be combined and distributed according to Sarah’s wishes. She currently holds Sarah’s ashes in her house. To ensure her wishes take effect, she’s refusing to hand over Sarah’s ashes to Sarah’s executors!

First question - is there anything which legally obligates her to hand over Sarah’s ashes to Jane’s executors? We don’t believe so but with the likelihood of a possible dispute we’d rather be sure of our ground.

  • We have advised Liz to write to Sarah’s execs and request they confirm they are happy to discharge any funeral commitments relating to USA scattering to her execs.
  • Liz can then include her funeral wishes in her own Will - including combining her and Sarah’s ashes - and scattered by Liz’s execs in USA locations, as either executor expenses, or legacy or via a lifetime gift (she absolutely trusts her exec.). UK scatterings likely to be carried out by Sarah’s execs.

Can anyone foresee any legal issue here, notwithstanding the awkwardness of competing execs between the two estates. Let’s say our client is quite forthright about what she wants!
Thanks in advance.

Paul Tansley
Phoenix Wills & Probate