A lawyer digs deep with new book on ‘the law of dead bodies’

By Jamie Morris

A lawyer digs deep with new book on 'the law of dead bodies'
Lawyer Jason Ward with his new book (title inverted) Resolving Grave Disputes: The Law of Dead Bodies in Ontario.

It should come as no surprise that when Jason Ward publishes a book it would be on the law of dead bodies.

He is, after all, the lawyer whose firm brought Haunt Your House to Lindsay, which makes him partly responsible for the front yard graveyards and hordes of zombies and ghouls that spring up on front porches and at windows on Halloween.

A lawyer digs deep with new book on 'the law of dead bodies'“I’ve always been interested in the spooky and the macabre,” Ward admits. That led to his making a presentation at a legal education conference and, as he says, “digging in deep in this legal  area, so to speak.”

His book, Resolving Grave Disputes –The Law of Dead Bodies in Ontario is no light-hearted romp. It has a serious purpose.

“Ontario needed a comprehensive, one-stop guide on everything related to disposing of human remains, burial rights and the law surrounding dead bodies,” says Ward. “That is what this book hopefully achieves.”

It was written for family members who experience a death and have questions, but also as a  resource for the province’s “bereavement authority,” a recently formed organization that oversees the entire “bereavement sector” (funeral establishments, funeral directors, preplanners, cemetery and crematorium operators, and more.)

Deaths can bring uncertainty and family conflicts. This slim volume can help, answering questions like: Who decides how and when a person’s remains will be disposed of? What if there is no will? How do I pay for funeral services? Where can I bury a body or dispose of cremated remains in Ontario? What happens if no one steps forward to claim a dead body?

Along the way, Ward provides some surprising facts. Who knew that the number of unclaimed bodies in Ontario has roughly doubled over the past 10 years? That cremation avoids some potential conflicts because ashes–unlike bodies–can be divided? That scattering ashes in provincial parks or conservation areas is permissible unless there are posted restrictions?

Disputes are, Ward says, more common that we’d think. He knows this from his own practice, and from, in the course of preparing the book, consulting with others in the industry, including Linden Mackey, owner of Mackey and Stoddart Funeral Homes.

It  takes a toll. On families, of course, but also on the legal system, as Ward explains:

“These conflicts often get escalated to a judge, which is very costly and often takes too much time, given the urgency of needing to deal with the disposal of a body.”

The book includes a disclaimer, noting it’s for information and guidance only and shouldn’t be relied on as legal advice. Which is to say those in difficulty can expect to be seeking out a lawyer.

There’s a lesson to be learned and and in conversation Ward is willing to offer it as free legal advice: “Everyone  should have at least a basic last will and testament and a power of attorney for both property and personal care.”

Ward regularly gets calls from all over North America concerning the laws of dead bodies, and provides an example of a case brought to his attention that illustrates what can go wrong.

“A man died with no will. His current wife insisted he be buried in Catholic tradition. However, his first wife, from whom he was never technically divorced, insisted the estate could not afford a full, Catholic burial and that money would be better if it were available to support his minor children that he left behind. The dispute was who had the proper authority to make decisions.”

In the end, says Ward, the parties settled their dispute amicably out of court, after better understanding the legal issues and expenses had they proceeded in court.

Sadly, too many of us avoid planning for our deaths. Ward will undoubtedly continue to find his book and his services in demand.

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