Compass Newsletter - Articles

Ted Williams' Legacy - A Family Feud

by Barbara Jo Smith
Fall 2002

This article should be about baseball. Instead it is about a very public fight over the disposition of the remains of a baseball legend who valued privacy. Ted Williams' children from two different marriages are disputing whether he should be cryogenically frozen or cremated with his ashes scattered on the Florida coast with the ashes of his dog, Slugger, who died a few years before him.

Although Mr. Williams' case will be decided under Florida or Arizona law, Oregon law will probably apply for most of our readers. An Oregon statute provides a hierarchy of who makes the decisions regarding the disposition of a person's remains. This includes the body's presence at any memorial services, burial, cremation or freezing. If the disposition is directed by someone higher on the list, then those lower on the list will have no authority to direct a different disposition. The order of priority is as follows:

  1. The deceased person either through a signed written directive or a written plan filed with a funeral director;

  2. A person designated by the deceased person on a form substantially similar to one set out in the statute, which requires two witnesses;

  3. Spouse;

  4. Son or daughter;

  5. Either parent;

  6. Brother or sister;

  7. Court-appointed Guardian;

  8. Relative of next degree of kinship;

  9. Personal Representative; and

  10. Public health officer.

If there is more than one set of directions signed by the deceased person, then the most recent will control. If any of the above persons is under the age of 18, then that person will not be allowed to make any decisions. If there are no written plans or a designation form, then the first available person on the list can make the decision. If another person in the same category files a written objection with the funeral director, then the matter is settled by a court, unless the parties later settle it themselves.

Written Plans

The best way to prevent any disputes is to prearrange with a funeral director. There are many details that require decisions. Without the director's assistance, some of those missing details could lead to disputes. Also, having the plan on file safeguards against loss of the papers or no one looking for them until after another disposition has occurred. Prearrangements can be made even if there is no plan to prepay. Only insufficient funds may cause a change in the plan. All the family needs to know is the choice of funeral home.

Even without the help of a funeral director, a signed writing specifying a particular disposition will control. One should be careful to make sure such a writing will be found when required and that there are no disputes that it is authentic. Although not legally required, having your signature notarized or witnessed by disinterested parties is a good idea.

Designating Another Person

Many people are not quite ready to plan their final disposition. One should carefully consider who would be making the decision in the absence of written directions. Second marriages, children in diverse religions, or the absence of close relatives are all situations for which the statute's designation form (number 2 on the list) can be very helpful. This form will require two witnesses other than the persons designated.


The goal for most people is to make their passing as easy as possible on their family and prevent issues that create hard feelings among their children. A part of that planning is planning for funeral or celebration of life services and the final disposition of the body.