If there is a surviving spouse, and there are no allegations of enduring estrangement, incompetence, contrary intent or waiver and agreement which is proven by clear and convincing evidence, a surviving spouse shall have the sole authority in all matters pertaining to the disposition of the remains of the decedent.
If there is not a surviving spouse, absent an allegation of enduring estrangement, incompetence, contrary intent or waiver and agreement which is proven by clear and convincing evidence, the next of kin shall have sole authority in all matters pertaining to the disposition of the remains of the decedent under Pennsylvania law.
“Next of kin” is Defined in Pennsylvania Title 20, Chapter 3, §305 as:
The spouse and relatives by blood of the deceased in order that they be authorized to succeed to the deceased’s estate under Chapter 21 (relating to intestate succession) as long as the person is an adult or an emancipated minor.
Order of Intestate Succession as Defined in Pennsylvania Title 20, Chapter 21, §2103
The Pennsylvania Decedents, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code sets forth those persons who are entitled to an intestate share of a decedent’s estate and the order in which they qualify as next of kin. The order is as follows:
1. Surviving Spouse
2. Adult Child(ren) (to include adult grandchild(ren) and so forth)
5. Children of siblings
8. Children of Aunts and Uncles
9. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Coroner / Medical Examiner)
Other Notes About the Right to Control Disposition
When disputes arise, the court has the ultimate authority as to who will retain the right to control the remains of the decedent.
Each family member on the same line of succession has equal rights to the decedent. For instance, if it is determined that the decedent’s next of kin is their adult children and they have more than one child, then each one of the decedent’s children has equal rights to claim the decedent’s body and make funeral arrangements for the decedent.
Funeral directors will not interject in the personal matters of family members that have equal rights in the line of succession. However, if there is a dispute among the legal next of kin, arrangements may not be able to move forward until the family can come to a mutual agreement or until such a time as the court has ruled on who among the next of kin shall have the right to control disposition.