The remains of Jim Thorpe can remain in Jim Thorpe, Pa. That was the ruling handed down on recently by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. The dispute between the family of the legendary Native American athlete and a small Pennsylvania town named after him, brings to mind an issue easily arising where committed couples remain unmarried.
Do people really fight over burial places? Sadly, the answer is yes. Some even take their battles to court. First the Thorpe case, which is admittedly rare, then the analogy which is common.
In 1953 two small Pennsylvania towns decided to merge and name their new town "Jim Thorpe" in honor of the athlete. Even though it is unlikely Thorpe ever visited the area, the new town built a memorial to him and convinced his wife to have Thorpe's remains interred there. Now as reported by the Wall Street Journal,in an article titled "Court: Remains of Jim Thorpe Can Remain in Jim Thorpe," a court has decided that his remains should remain in that town.
This case was unusual.
Thorpe's descendants were relying on a federal law that allows Native American tribes to reclaim artifacts from museums, including human remains. They wanted him returned to Oklahoma, to be buried with his relatives on Sac and Fox Tribal land. The Federal Appeals Court ruled that Thorpe stays in Thorpe.
The important part is not the decision itself (although it certainly is important to the families, the Tribes, and the town in PA). The case highlights that families do not always agree where a loved one's remains should be buried. Virtually all states provide that a spouse has the right to determine place of burial if the decedent has not specified such a choice during his or her life. But if there is no spouse, if a couple, whether same or opposite sex, is in a committed relationship but are not married, no automatic right to make such decisions attaches. Then families step in, often making decisions contrary to what the “significant other” wants. If that happens they often resort to the legal system to settle the dispute. Ultimately, it is a judge who then decides where someone should be buried.
There is a way to stop this from happening to you through an estate plan. You can make funeral plans a part of your overall estate plan and dictate how you would like your body to be treated after you pass away. It is a good idea to do so to prevent family fights.
Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney regarding how to provide your instructions for burial (or cremations) and other details. Once you have reduced your instructions to writing, be sure to provide copies to your loved ones.
If you would like to chat with us at the Graham Law Firm, you will always find our information on our website www.thegrahamlawfirm.com.
Reference: Wall Street Journal (October 23, 2014) "Court: Remains of Jim Thorpe Can Remain in Jim Thorpe"