For most of us, what to do with our remains after we die is not a controversial issue. We put some thought into whether we want to be buried or cremated, and where our burial plot will be, so that our wishes can be expressed in a will. But as with so many other things, when a person dies intestate — that is, without a will — his or her wishes are up for debate, possibly leading to a battle in probate court.
For example, the final resting place of legendary athlete Jim Thorpe has been the subject of a family feud that has reached the federal court of appeals. An appellate court recently heard a challenge from the town that bears Thrope’s name to a lower court order that would move his remains from that town to land belonging to his Native American tribe.
Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics, and also starred in football and baseball. He died intestate in 1953. He was going to be buried in Oklahoma, where he was born and where the Sac and Fox tribe has territory. But when plans for a monument fell through, Thorpe’s wife had the body moved — in the middle of his funeral — to a region in Pennsylvania.
There, two towns had agreed to merge into a single community called Jim Thorpe. The new town would build a mausoleum for its namesake and surround it with statues and signs honoring Thorpe. His remains have been there ever since.
But his sons believe that the Pennsylvania burial goes against their father’s wishes. They and the Sac and Fox tribe sued in federal court to have the remains returned to Oklahoma. A federal judge ruled in their favor in April, based at least in part on a 1990 federal statute that prevents the disturbance of Native American graves.
Those on the other side of the case include the town of Jim Thorpe and the real Thorpe’s grandsons. They say that the judge misapplied the statute. They add that the Thorpe memorial is a major source of revenue for the town.
Since most people likely would not want their final resting place disturbed, it makes sense to include your wishes on this matter in your estate plan.
Source: The Pike County Courier, “Pa. town appeals to keep body of Jim Thorpe,” Michael Rubinkam, Sep. 24, 2013