Ala. Man Can't Bury Wife in Front Yard, Courts Rule

By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 18, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Alabama man's embittered fight to bury his deceased wife in his front yard finally ended Friday, as her body was exhumed and set for cremation.

According to The Associated Press, James Davis, 74, had buried his wife of 48 years in 2009, as her dying wish was to "remain at their house" in Stevenson, Alabama. What followed was a series of court cases with Davis fighting the city and eventually losing.

Why couldn't Davis keep his wife buried in front of their home?

Ala. Supreme Court Rules Against Home Burial

James Davis' legal fight with the city reached a boiling point in 2012, when a state court ordered the body of his wife Patty Davis to be disinterred despite James' contention that the government had no control over his "family plot."

The decision was appealed all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court, which last month upheld the lower court's ruling that Davis' wife's body be removed from the property, Reuters reports.

According to the AP, the state Supreme Court upheld a Jackson County judge's ruling that "state law gives cities the right to regulate and prohibit private burials," despite Davis' belief that he "broke no laws."

City officials who stood behind the decision in 2012 worried about setting a bad precedent by allowing Davis to bury his wife along "one of the main streets through the town." They worried about potential negative effects on the neighborhood's appearance and property values, reports the AP.

Dying Wishes Denied

Although James Davis says he's "adjusting" to his wife being exhumed and cremated, it is no trifling matter that her dying wish was to be buried at home, reports the AP.

It is for this reason that those near death are encouraged to write down the final wishes for funeral plans in a separate document -- not in a will -- that can be easily accessed and followed immediately following their deaths.

Though in this case Patty Davis' wishes were known and passed on to her loving surviving spouse, the issue may also be that her final request -- to be buried in her front yard -- isn't legally feasible.

To avoid this sort of heartbreaking result, those planning for their final resting places should consult an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that both state and local laws can accommodate their final wishes.

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