Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dispute over ashes leads to 6 month jail term for “paramour”

Freddy Loucks, age 43, of Mansfield, Pennsylvania died in the early morning of November 22, 2009 when his pickup truck crashed. He was not wearing a seat belt. His passenger, Monica Miller, described in his obituary as his “loving companion,” was wearing a seat belt and only sustained minor injuries. See, Tioga County Man Killed in Crash, Williamsport Sun-Gazette, November 23, 2009.   
This is a common news story about which I normally would not be writing 4 years later. What is noteworthy and worrisome is what happened after Mr. Louck’s death.
Mr. Loucks had apparently not anticipated or planned for his death. His son, Cameron, was named administrator of his estate. (An administrator is a person who performs the functions of an executor when a decedent failed to name an executor.)
As is sometimes the case when there is blood family on one side and a “loving companion” (or “paramour” as Monica was described by the court) on the other, the administration of the estate was contentious.  One area of dispute pertained to the disposition of the decedent’s ashes.
Somehow, Monica Miller had come into possession of Freddy Loucks’ ashes after his cremation. This upset Cameron who obtained a court order directing Monica to turn the ashes over to the sheriff so they could be divided between Monica and Cameron. Monica did turn ashes over to the sheriff, but it was later discovered that these were not human remains.  
The Tioga County Orphan's Court held Monica in contempt, sentenced her to six months in jail, and ordered her to pay $8,932.69 in fees and costs. These rulings were recently affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court (an intermediate level appeals court). In re: Estate of Freddy Todd Loucks, Appeal of Monica Miller, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, November 6, 2013. It is the second time this case has gone up to the Superior Court.
The Loucks case illustrates why unmarried couples who are living together need to take steps to protect each other in the event of the incapacity or death of one of them. The potential for later animosity and dispute is great. But problems can be reduced or eliminated through effective legal planning that clarifies property interests and deals with issues like who will control the bodily remains.
Pennsylvania law gives you the right to control the disposition of your remains by including a provision in your will. See Section 305 of Title 20 Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania. You may also dispose of your remains by making an anatomical gift under Section 8611(a).
If you fail to provide directions as to the handling of your remains, sole control generally passes to your surviving spouse. If you have no surviving spouse, the authority passes to your next of kin.
Freddy Loucks sad case carries a message for couples who are in committed relationships but are unmarried – if you suspect there is a chance of dispute over your remains after your death, do everyone the favor of including instructions in your will.
Unmarried couples in long-term committed relationships need to have wills and other estate planning documents in place.  Wills, powers of attorney, health care directives and other legal planning are often even more important for them than for married couples.
Freddy Loucks was only 43. He surely was not expecting to die on that November road in Tioga County. But we never know what life holds in store for us. In this case, a little legal planning would have helped Mr. Loucks’ loved ones avoid 4 years of litigation, two appeals to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and six months in jail for Monica.
Further Reading
Section 305 of Title 20 of Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania (Right to dispose of a decedent's remains)
Section 8611 of Title 20 of Consolidated Statutes of Pennsylvania (Anatomical gifts)
Disposal of Remains in PA: Pt II (Neil Hendershot’s PA Estate and Fiduciary Law Blog, March 23, 2007)
Kulp v. Kulp, 2007 PA Super 70 (March 12, 2007) – another PA case involving disposition of cremated remains.

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