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Paul Brennan, Lawyer, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Advice to Mothers in law making a Will

Dear John

I have appointed my son as my Executor as he is devoted to me. However, I am concerned that he has fallen under the influence of my daughter in law who has asked me if I had any objection to a “Cardboard Coffin”.  

Is there any legal obligation on the executor not to be too cheap with the funeral arrangements?

Worried mother

Dear Worried Mother

You are right to be concerned, Edith Piaf’s mother was put out with the trash.

You could express a wish in your Will for either cremation or burial but usually that does not bind the Executor. 

Whereas, your Will makes specific directions for the disposal of your money and other assets, your body is not really property as such, and therefore it is up to your executor as to how it should be disposed of, within reason. Health departments and courts can, in certain circumstances, deter some of the more enthusiastic means of disposal favoured by daughters in law, such as “sky burial”.

However, careful wording of the Will can alleviate some of your concerns. A clause such as “I leave $5000 to a donkey sanctuary unless I am buried in a solid oak coffin” should suffice. It does not need to be oak and can be any other material, although I would caution against any precious metals e.g. gold or silver as even a clause specifying “and remains there” can be ignored.

I find that once this method is explained to clients even the most conservative life can be celebrated with professional mourners, a horse drawn hearse, or apologies read out by certain relatives at the graveside.

Finally, a court would find that as Executor this is your son’s decision alone and your daughter in law should make that quite clear to him.


(c) Paul Brennan 2013. All rights reserved. Extract from John Fytit’s International Legal Problem Page. For more go to

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