There is nothing like a day long seminar on the intricacies of wills and estates to set the mind adrift to wander freely amongst half forgotten stanzas of classical poems. It happens to me every time.
Last week it was a reference to the proper drafting of clauses pertaining to the disposition of a testators ashes (yes, we lawyers actually attend seminars about such things!) that transported me instead to the words of Lord Macaulay’s famous Horatius at the Bridge:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?”
How indeed! In a modern world characterized by multiple marriages, and blended families, the custody and disposition of a person’s ashes takes on increased importance, if for no other reason than that their existence creates a flash point in disputes between first, second or even third families. Sometimes an Horatius is needed to guard those ancestral ashes.
I recall a bitter, bitter case I had as a young lawyer that pitted an estranged wife against a new girlfriend (my client) over pension benefits and the like. At one point in the proceedings a demand was made upon my client to surrender the ashes of the deceased husband/boyfriend. She responding by mixing them up in a bowl of porridge and eating them, then later in court turning to her rival to announce with a Cheshire cat grin exactly what she had done. Where is Horatius when you really need him?
Recently a marathon family mediation session at our office, involving a daughter ( by a first marriage) and a wife (by a second marriage) finally settled, with the tipping point being a concession as to the custody of the ashes of the deceased.That one issue loomed much larger to the parties than the considerable sums of money that were in play in the negotiations.
The law offers one precious little guidance when such disputes erupt – who has the greater right to say where a person’s ashes should be scattered – the deceased’ children, or their current companion or spouse? Its the sort of issue judges are loathe to tackle- tending to growl at counsel to step out into the corridor and sort it out between themselves. The topic comes up more than you might imagine, we know, from the parade of disgruntled heirs that seek consultations with us.
I probably should have paid more attention in the seminar, and less time mentally reciting poetry, since the best solution is advance planning and proper will drafting. If your Facebook status reads as “Its complicated”, or even if you are just working on your second marriage, as pretty much everyone is, you probably should give some thought as to whose mantle you want your ashes to live on after you pass. At the end of the day, the decision will rest with your executor, who will be bound by what you have stipulated in your will.
Remember that your cremains may have extraordinary sentimental value to your children, as well as your current companion, so it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, and once taken should be fully recorded in your will, and also discussed with your executors during you lifetime..
But, if you simply want to piss everyone off, or really can’t decide who should have them, consider blowing your entire estate in order to have your ashes launched into space in a space burial. There are at least two companies, Celestis and Elysium, that for a very handsome fee will launch tour cremains into outer space ! No ashes, no money left in the estate- no problem! ( Sorry Horatius, modern technology may have made you redundant)