Law of Dead Bodies
It's almost Halloween, so there's no better time to blog about the law of dead bodies.
In Utah, a person is deemed to be dead if the person has experienced
(a) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions; or
(b) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.
A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards. U.C.A. §26-34-2
When someone dies, there is a clear hierarchy of survivors who may determine the location and manner of disposition of the dead body. If the deceased has listed someone in their will (or other written instrument) and followed the other statutory requirements, that person makes the determination of disposition. If no one has been listed in a will, the surviving spouse is next in line, and then the decedent's child or majority of the decedent's children. Check out U.C.A. §59-9-602 to find out who is next in line to make the determination of disposition.
But what happens if there is a dispute about what to do with the body? The legislature has provided the probate court six factors to consider when resolving this type of dispute. The six factors are:
(1) the reasonableness and practicality of the proposed funeral arrangements and disposition;
(2) the degree of the personal relationship between the decedent and each of the persons claiming the right of disposition;
(3) the desires of the person or persons who are ready, able, and willing to pay the cost of the funeral arrangements and disposition;
(4) the convenience and needs of other families and friends wishing to pay their respects;
(5) the desires of the decedent; and
(6) the degree to which the funeral arrangements would allow maximum participation by all who wish to pay their respects. U.C.A. §58-9-605
Regarding exhumation for another reason, the Supreme Court of Utah has stated that "it is therefore a sound and well-established policy of the law that a person, once buried, should not be exhumed except for the most compelling reasons." Matter of Mayer's Estate, 577 P.2d 108, 110-111 (1978).