What are my options regarding getting my late husband’s ashes back from my mother-in-law?

UPDATED: Oct 2, 2022

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What are my options regarding getting my late husband’s ashes back from my mother-in-law?

My husband passed away a year ago. He left a note in his safe saying he wanted to be cremated and stay with his kids. My mother-in-law got his ashes against my wishes and will not return them and is trying to bury him this is not what he wanted.

Asked on October 9, 2019 under Estate Planning, Georgia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The note your husband left unfortunately has no legal effect whatsoever: only instructions contained in a properly signed and witnessed will are legal binding after a person's death.
A spouse has a greater right to the ashes than a parent IF the spouse stepped up and arranged for the cremation. If the spouse did not do so and let a parent take charge of this, then the spouse effectively gave up her right(s) in this regard and the parent then took priority or precedence in terms of the ashes.
If you did arrange for the cremation, then the ashes should have been returned to you; if not, you could sue your mother-in-law for them (unfortunately, a lawsuit is the only way to get the courts involved; and only the courts can order her to turn them over).
If your mother-in-law arranged for the cremation, then the ashes are properly hers.

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