Is it legal to ban a relative from attending a funeral?

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In a recent EastEnders storyline, beleaguered barman and boxer George Knight is banned from attending his adoptive mother’s funeral by his cruel adoptive father, Eddie. Here, we discuss who is ultimately responsible for arranging a funeral, and whether a legal right to ban individuals exists in the UK.

Fans of the long-running soap EastEnders were recently given more reasons to despise the villainous Eddie Knight, currently in jail for the racist murder of his adopted son’s birth father.

Following the tragic and unexpected death of his wife, Gloria, Eddie meets with adopted son George Knight and subsequently bans him from attending Gloria’s funeral.

This raises key questions for families – particularly large, extended families – when loved ones pass away over who has the right and the responsibility to make funeral arrangements, and whether such rights extend to banning certain relatives from attending, as Eddie does with George.

Who is responsible for arranging a funeral?

The death of a loved one is often a traumatic time, with emotions running high. Each family member will have his or her own ideas for how to honour the deceased’s memory and properly pay their respects. The deceased may even have left requests before they died.

In law, however, responsibility for arranging the funeral falls, first and foremost, to the named executor. This person, who must be identified in the deceased’s will, has the responsibility to take possession of the deceased’s body after it is released by the hospital or the coroner.

An executor has final say on any decisions regarding funeral and burial arrangements, regardless of whether they are a member of the deceased’s immediate family. They are also under no legal obligation to follow any requests made by the deceased concerning funeral arrangements, even if these are stipulated in the will.

If the deceased did not make a will, responsibility falls to the individual with priority on intestacy. Known as the administrator, this person takes possession of the body in the same manner as would an executor.

Deciding the person with priority on intestacy is usually dictated by a hierarchy, starting with the husband, wife, civil partner, or long-term partner, followed by the deceased’s children.

In rare cases where no-one is willing or able to manage the funeral arrangements, or where the deceased had no next of kin, the local authority is responsible for arranging the funeral.

What happens if relatives dispute the executor or administrator?

Relatives can sometimes dispute the individual named as executor or administrator. In these instances, they can apply to the court for a decision.

Relatives can also resolve such disputes via alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation. These routes are increasingly preferred and even encouraged by the courts.

Can individuals be prevented from attending a funeral?

A key priority for relatives will be to ensure that any funeral arrangements honour the deceased and allow as many people as possible to pay their respects in a dignified, solemn, and safe environment.

It is understandable, therefore, that relatives may wish to prevent an individual from attending if there is a risk that they will be disrespectful, abusive, or disruptive.

Unfortunately, it is not legally possible to ban an individual if a funeral or burial is to be held at a public place such as a church or a crematorium, unless that person poses a genuine risk to the health, safety, and welfare of others.

In such rare cases, it may be possible for relatives to apply for a restraining order against the individual in advance of a funeral or burial. It is worth taking advice before doing this, however, as restraining orders can take time to process and may aggravate what is already an emotionally fragile situation.

To avoid this, an executor or administrator may wish to hold a funeral or burial by invitation only at a private location, such as a funeral home. While this still does not prevent an unwanted individual from attending, it does provide an added layer of security by ensuring that only those with invitations can enter the premises.

Why is mediation useful?

Before banning an individual from attending a funeral, consider preventing any future upset by engaging that individual in mediation. It may be possible to agree alternative arrangements and allow the person to pay their respects without exacerbating the situation or ending up in court.

Mediation in trust and probate disputes may also become increasingly preferred, particularly following a decision in the Court of Appeal last year stating that judges have the power and discretion to order parties to engage in a non-court-based dispute resolution process. This insight by the International Arbitration team covers the decision in Churchill v Merthyr Tydfil County Council [2023] EWCA Civ 1416 in more detail.

The death of a loved one is often difficult enough without disputes over funeral arrangements causing further upset.

Working with legal professionals at an early stage can help to ensure that an executor or administrator can effectively carry out their responsibilities and plan to honour the deceased in a solemn, respectful, and dignified environment.

Gateley Plc is authorised and regulated by the SRA (Solicitors' Regulation Authority). Please visit the SRA website for details of the professional conduct rules which Gateley Legal must comply with.

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