Until the Human Rights Act 1998, a person’s wishes or instructions concerning their funeral were not binding on their personal representative/s, who could dispose of their body as they saw fit. The reason for this was that a will is an instrument designed for the sole purpose of disposing of property. There is no property in a dead body, therefore there is no legal requirement to honour funeral wishes.

Funeral wishes are still not, as a matter of course, legally binding but, in certain circumstances, a court of law may order that they are carried out. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been invoked by one judge when pronouncing that funeral wishes are binding on personal representatives (Borrows v HM Coroner for Preston [2008]), but dismissed by another judge on the grounds that dead people do not have human rights (Ibuna v Arroyo [2012]). Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights may or may not uphold the funeral wishes of those with strong religious beliefs who expect to be disposed of in accordance with those beliefs. The law has yet to be tested in this matter.

In certain circumstances a judge may remove an executor or administrator who is at odds with either other executors/administrators or members of the family – see Removing and replacing a personal representative below.