Wilma Phyllis Burnes died in September 1992. She had been admitted to Lake Cargelligo Hospital due to a diabetic condition. She was then moved to Griffith Base Hospital and subsequently to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney where she died following an operation.
Arrangements had been made with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, which conducts an Aboriginal funeral service, to collect the body from St Vincent’s Hospital for burial by the family at Griffith.
Wilma’s family was in dispute with Ronald Richards, who claimed to have been living in a de facto relationship with Wilma for the last seventeen years of her life. Ronald wished to bury her near where they lived in Euabalong.
Her family felt strongly, that Wilma should be buried at Griffith, Ronald claims that he should be entitled, as her de facto to carry out her funeral.
The ill feeling between Ronald and the Wilma’s family was not helped by reports over a number of years that Ronald assaulted Wilma. Furthermore, about three weeks before her death Wilma rang her daughter complaining of an assault and asking that she be collected from Ronald’s house.
In this weeks posts we have stated that the executor of the will of a deceased person has both a duty to arrange for that person’s funeral and also a right to claim the body for the purposes of carrying out that funeral. There has been no established rule where a person dies without having made a will or where there is the appointment of an administrator of his or her estate.
There was considerable doubt as to whether the de facto relationship continued up to the time Wilma was admitted to hospital. Wilma’s desire to be taken away from the house, indicate that she had terminated the relationship that casts a doubt
- on any rights which he might have as to the matter of administration, notwithstanding the many years they had previously spent together, and
- as to whether he could be regarded as the equivalent of the husband of the deceased.
The Court decided that the family had the right to carry out Wilma’s burial at Griffith.
If Wilma had made a Will she could have named an executor who had the duty to carry out the funeral. It would have saved the distress that both her family and Ronald went through at an already difficult time.
It is very important that we plan for the future, because we owe it to our loved ones to name an executor who will carry out out burial plans, and direct our estate as we wish.