How to determine legal next of kin in mortuary law

Updated March 23, 2017

In Mortuary Law, the person who has the right of disposition can vary depending on circumstances. Disposition means the burying or disposal of a dead human body. Therefore the right of disposition refers to the person that has the legal right to dispose of a dead human body. The right of disposition is in most cases given to the next of kin. But just because you are the spouse of the deceased does not mean you are necessarily the next of kin. If you have any concerns regarding a deceased loved one, you should contact the Funeral Director that is presiding over your family's affairs.

Read the portion of the will or testament that describes how the person wishes to be disposed of. This will let you know who they wish to have the right of disposition in most cases. Normally this is the spouse if the persons were living in normal relations of marriage. It would take a strong court justification to interfere with this normal circumstance.

Read through the last of the will that will tell you to whom property should be dispersed to. If you don't have knowledge of the family tree, this will give you insight. Normally if there is no surviving spouse, the next of kin goes to the children of legal age. If there are no kids, it then refers to the parents. If again there are no survivors, the right is deferred to siblings.

Contact your Funeral Director about your questions. He or she can help you decide who has the paramount right of disposition in any case. The wishes of the deceased person will always prevail over common law. If you are the spouse but are separated, you could still get paramount right over the new person in the deceased person's life. If there is no one present to tell the Funeral Director otherwise, you would have that right placed upon you.

Present your marriage certificate to the Funeral Director if asked for it. This will aid in going around the special relationship rules for the right of disposition. This rule says that if there are special relationships between the relatives and the deceased person, they could have the right of disposition if they ask for it. This could go to court if you pursue it, as the courts look at who was closer to the person, yourself the spouse, or the other relative.

Present the power of attorney paperwork if you have any. A Funeral Director will follow the power of attorney above all other documents and wishes of the family. If you wish to have this power of attorney revoked, you will have to contact the attorney that overseen the document to begin with. Supporting paperwork such as the will or testament will be needed for this attorney to look over.


Paramount right of disposition is given to the person or persons whom will be taking care of the bill associated with the funeral in most cases. There are exceptions, as with every rule. But generally if you are the next of kin, you will be responsible for that bill if the estate is not able to pay for it. Life insurance as well as any pre-need programs the deceased may have used will be taken before there is a bill due.

Things You'll Need

  • Will or living testament
  • Funeral Director, if person is already deceased
  • Knowledge of family tree
  • Legal union or marriage certificate, if applicable
  • Power of attorney
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