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Friday, February 28, 2014

Learning About Funeral Law: Past and Present

I recently ran across The Funeral Law Blog, a fascinating blog that discusses various legal issues relating to burial procedures, cemeteries, and other funeral-related matters. While I confess that I had never thought of this as an existing subject of legal study, the posts at this blog cover some pretty interesting stories and legal issues.

For example, I ran across this post by James Harrell, which discusses the purchase of an old cemetery in Indiana. A farmer purchased the plot of land on which a historical cemetery was located and transferred the land back to the town following the purchase. The farmer owned and farmed land on all sides of the cemetery. His intention here was to preserve the cemetery and to keep it from developers. But his plan may have backfired:

Under William C. Haak Trust v. Willusz, 949 N.E.2d 833, an easement of necessity can arise in Indiana if a piece of land is parceled out and sold, leaving one parcel without access to a public road. One claiming an easement of necessity must prove 1) unity of title at the time of severance, and 2) necessity of the easement. Here, the farmer may have unintentionally created a pathway for future owners to claim an easement of necessity. Prior to the farmer purchasing the cemetery, there was no unity of title between his farm area and the cemetery. Anyone attempting to establish an easement by necessity would have been unable to do so. However, since the farmer purchased the title to the cemetery, he created a unified title between his farm land and the cemetery via the doctrine of merger. Finally, when he parceled out the cemetery and transferred ownership back to the West Creek Township, he inadvertently created the first element needed to prove an easement by necessity.
Harrell points out that the town will hopefully keep the land from further development, but notes that this is a cautionary tale that highlights the importance of hiring lawyers.

On a related note, while paging through some old issues of The Green Bag, I came across Frank W. Grinnell's article, Legal Rights in the Remains of the Dead. Grinnell surveys American and British law on the subject of the dispositions of bodies after death and contrasts the legal systems. British law was especially curious when it came to the subject of cremation:

In England there has been a curious conflict of law between the ecclesiastical and the civil courts as to the right to cremate a body in the absence of the express wish of the deceased. It has been pointed out by Hon. Samuel R. Ruggles, in a well-known report, that the English ecclesiastical courts exercise over the burial of the dead "a legal, secular authority which they had gradually abstracted from the ancient civil courts to which it originally belonged," and that the separate existence and authority of the English ecclesiastical courts, therefore, has helped to prevent the civil courts from developing the law of individual rights in the matter. [Footnote omitted]
The full version of Grinnell's article is available on Hein Online here. At approximately eight pages, it is a surprisingly long article for the Green Bag. The citation is: 17 Green Bag 345 (1905).

All of these findings are a bit dark, but they are part of an interesting and necessary area of the law that has more ties to other subject matter than I initially realized.

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