On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Cumberland County.
Dreier, Gruccio and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.
Roy H. Jones, Sr. died on September 9, 1980. The next day, his widow, plaintiff Bessie J. Jones purchased two burial plots in the Willow Grove Methodist Church Cemetery in Pittsgrove Township, New Jersey, with arrangements for "perpetual care," and Mr. Jones was interred there.
In the years following Mr. Jones' death, plaintiff has become dissatisfied with the care provided for the grave site. For many years she herself attended to the site and mowed the grass. But she is now seventy-seven years old and unable to
continue tending to the grave site herself. Plaintiff is also concerned about the time when she herself will pass on. She wants to be buried with her husband, but is reluctant to be interred in a final resting place which she feels will be entirely neglected with her passing. She therefore decided that her late husband's remains should be disinterred and reburied in the Siloam Cemetery in Vineland, New Jersey, alongside a plot for herself.
When plaintiff attempted to have a funeral director arrange for the disinterment of her late husband's remains and their reburial at Siloam Cemetery, she was told that there could be no disinterment because their two children had not signed the disinterment permit. Mrs. Jones was estranged from her children. Alleging that she did not know where they resided, she commenced a suit by complaint and order to show cause to obtain a court order for the disinterment, and served them by publication.
On the return of the order to show cause, the two children and a grandchild appeared in court and testified in opposition to plaintiff's application. The decedent's children told the court that their father wanted to be buried in the Willow Grove Cemetery because it reminded him of the small town in Alabama where he was born, and because a granddaughter was buried in the Willow Grove Cemetery. The children also offered to contribute to the church which operated the Willow Grove Cemetery in order to provide funds for the care of their father's grave.
The trial Judge denied the plaintiff's application for disinterment. In an oral opinion on the record and in a subsequent letter opinion, he ruled that N.J.S.A. 8A:5-20, the disinterment statute, had not been complied with because Mr. Jones' children objected to the disinterment and that, in light of the children's objections, plaintiff had not established good cause for the disinterment and reburial.
On appeal, plaintiff argues that she has established good cause for granting her application, that the objections of her estranged children were irrelevant to a determination of whether there was good cause for the disinterment, and that the trial Judge had erroneously posited "urgent necessity" rather than good cause as a condition for the disinterment. She also argues that N.J.S.A. 8A:5-20 authorizes disinterment without a showing of good cause and that the statutory requirement for the children's consent should be held inapplicable in the present case, because the children were disinherited by their father and are estranged from her. Alternatively, plaintiff argues that if ...