Do I Have The Right To My Dad’s Ashes?

Dear Ms. Allison: My dad and mom are still legally married. He passed away in another state and his girlfriend of 3 years has his ashes. She won’t even give us none of his ashes or none of his belongings. I am his kid, so can I sue her for his ashes? Or how would I go about getting his ashes? He’s been gone for 2 years now. I’ve been fighting with her for the whole 2 years over his ashes, and she won’t give us none. He has 2 more kids that wants his ashes too. Help me please. I need his ashes. Thanks. Anonymous in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Anonymous:

If your parents were still married when your father died, your mother is legally entitled to his ashes and she can sue to recover them if she wishes. She is legally entitled to inherit from him as well, regardless of what other arrangements he may have made, unless they had a prenuptial contract that spelled out different terms. Unless your father disinherited you and his other children, you have a right to inherit from him as well. If your mother or you kids are the beneficiaries of any accounts or life insurance, of course you all would have a right to those.

The girlfriend does not have a legal right to the ashes or his estate, unless they bought property together and were both on the title of that joint property. As a joint owner, she might have a right to property or bank accounts they owned together. If he made her a beneficiary of any accounts or insurance policies, she has a right to those.

Your family may need to engage an estate litigation lawyer to sue her for what is yours. This can be expensive and can make things even more quarrelsome and hostile between you and the girlfriend. Litigation means a lawsuit and it can go on much longer than the two years you’ve already invested and lost.

Another, faster, friendlier, and less costly option is estate mediation. Your family and the girlfriend would have to all agree to work with a mediator who would listen to all sides and help you figure out a solution. The mediator can put you in separate rooms and go back and forth between you, if you can’t face each other. You and she can have your attorneys present to advise you, however, they cannot negotiate for you. It is key that everyone is willing to work together on a solution. Mediation won’t work if you don’t all agree to share the solution and abide by the settlement agreement developed in the mediation. The mediator will keep the solution options in front, so that no one gets bogged down by emotional distractions. She will facilitate or help you arrive at agreement over the settlement terms. The agreement will be in writing with details of how and when things must be done. You will all sign it. It is enforceable when written properly, and signed.

I am both an estate litigation lawyer and an estate mediator, so if I can help, please give me a call.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered. My best to you,

Gale Allison


  1. Levi Armstrong on June 22, 2020 at 5:59 am

    Gale, it’s interesting to know that a person who’s not legally married to their partner does not have any right to keep the ashes of their live-in partner. I’ve been watching a lot of legal drama shows during quarantine, and it really boils my blood to hear about these individuals who keep their partner’s remains from their children. If I ever get into this situation, I would definitely call an estate litigation lawyer to sue the person as soon as possible. Thanks for this!

    • Sharee Wells on June 23, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Levi. Since you are in estate administration, I’m sure you know that I am talking from the perspective of an Oklahoma lawyer to an Oklahoma resident. Because each state makes its own inheritance rules, if this happens to you or your clients in California (or any other state, for that matter) be sure to engage an estate litigation lawyer licensed in that state to be sure you are following the applicable laws. Thanks again for weighing in! Gale Allison

  2. Mari Relue on September 25, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    My father passed away in May and my siblings pressured me to sign the form to have him cremated. We were supposed to rotate every 3 months on keeping his ashes because there are 4 of us. Now my eldest brother doesn’t want to give them up. He says he wants him buried now but had no intention of doing so until I asked for them. He’s always been very controlling and this has destroyed our family. Do the 4 of us all have equal rights to my father’s ashes? Please help.

    • Gale Allison on September 30, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      Dear Mari:
      I am so sorry for your pain. I don’t really have enough information here to fully address your situation, but a general answer is: Assuming there is no spouse, all children have equal rights to determine funeral plans, including what is to be done with the remains.

      However, there is no need to continue in misery over this. It sounds like mediation is a really good option here to restore peace in the family. A neutral 3rd-party, the mediator, hears all sides and helps you settle on something fair you can all agree to do. For it to work, all parties to the dispute do have to agree to participate in the mediation. You can learn more on my website

      I mediate via Zoom meetings, so you don’t even have to leave your homes or be together for the discussions. By all means, contact me for more information on how mediation works.”

  3. Christina on November 27, 2020 at 11:39 am

    My father passed 4 years ago. He was recorded by video stating what hed like done with his ashes and whom gets some before the scattering. His widow has since moved on and refuses to give me my fathers ashes to honor his wishes. What are my options legally?

    • Sharee Wells on November 28, 2020 at 3:27 am

      Dear Christina:

      Currently, video wills are not accepted in Oklahoma – but there is always a first time and, eventually, they will be accepted.

      As his widow, your stepmother has a legal right to the ashes unless he legally willed them to others.

      You have a couple of options.

      1. You can sue her for them, but you are not likely to win in court unless she first agrees to give them to you in mediation. A lawsuit is a matter of public record. It is also expensive, time-consuming, and based on resulting in a winner and a loser.

      2. You can invite her to mediate the dispute, which would allow you to settle out of court, in private. You would both have to agree to mediate and live with the resulting written settlement. The vast majority of cases like this are settled when they go to mediation. It is less costly, time-consuming, and antagonistic than a lawsuit. Mediation is based on working together with an impartial mediator to negotiate a mutually satisfying (win-win) agreement.

      That’s your question, Asked and Answered. Call me if I can help.
      Gale Allison, Mediator and Attorney

  4. Gracie on December 27, 2020 at 2:51 am

    My dad died last year and I wasn’t able to go get his ashes so my sister did and shes keeping them from me even tho my dad wasn’t her real dad am I allowed to get then from her

    • Sharee Wells on January 11, 2021 at 3:16 pm

      Ms. Ezell,

      I am sorry for your loss and this dispute with your sister.

      I don’t understand. If you are your father’s only child, who is this sister? Is she a half sister? A step sister? If she is not his child and he did not adopt her and he was not married when he passed, then yes, the ashes should be yours.

      If she will not voluntarily give them to you, I am sorry to say that it will be expensive for you to hire an attorney or mediator to resolve the dispute. However, mediation would be quicker, non-confrontational, and less expensive than a lawsuit. Mediation has been known to repair relationships, but to assure no confrontation, I mediate using Zoom video conferencing. That way, if there is much animosity between you, you don’t actually have to even see her or speak to her. She will be in her virtual “room” and you will be in yours.

      In addition, mediation is private. It would not make your dispute or settlement terms a matter of public record. A lawsuit would. Whichever you choose, let me know if I can help.

      I wish you a happier new year, and that’s your question, Asked & Answered,
      Gale Allison

  5. Andrea gonzalez on October 10, 2023 at 11:02 am

    My father passed away 20yrs ago. I’m his only child his remains now are with a half sister of mine. My father isn’t her biological father. And there is documents to prove that. She has had my father remains for quite some time due to my living situations now my living situations are stable and I have a secure place to have my father’s remains my half sister will not give my father’s remains to me. She said that she was going to take the remains take the remains to Mexico and set him free with my aunt that’s deceased at her grave site what can I do to get my father’s remains in my hands does she have the right to keep him from me please let me know or what shall I do thank you

    • Sharee Wells on October 13, 2023 at 6:14 pm

      Dear Andrea,

      This is controlled by state law. If you are in the Oklahoma this issue is controlled first by your will and then by statute. Unless your father left the ashes to your half sister, they do not belong to her. However, if he was married to your mother and did not address this in his will at the time of his death the statute would have made the ashes belong to your mother who could have them left or given them to your half sister. So her right to keep the ashes is very dependent on the facts AND the law of the state of your father’s residence at the time of his death. But at the end of the day, even if the law is on your side, hiring a lawyer to pursue this is a very expensive option. If it means that much to you, you can certainly hire an attorney and then maybe consider hiring a mediator to resolve the issue. Either way, a lot of money would essentially be spent to bring about the resolution. I wish you the best. Gale Allison

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