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University of Pittsburgh Law Review

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Who owns death and why do we care? The question of who owns death is implicitly deliberated each time a legal dispute ensues over who can direct the manner of a decedent's burial. There is no definitive legal rule as to who has the right to control the disposal of mortal remains because there is no agreement as to who owns a body after death or whether the cadaver is subject to traditional property rights. Although most states have probate laws and health codes which authorize a decedent (or in the alternative, a priority list of family members) to direct the disposal of mortal remains, litigation persists among battling mourners. This Article examines the proprietary claims which are raised in mortal remains disputes and concludes that the legal system has not adequately addressed the need for decedent autonomy in confronting death and defining family.