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In re Estate of Travers

Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Morris

February 19, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN E. TRAVERS, JR.

          Decided: November 17, 2017

          Jill A. Mucerino, Esq., attorney for petitioner and cross-respondent, John E. Travers, Sr. (Golden, Rothschild, Spagnola, Lundell, Boylan & Garubo, P.C.).

          Mark P. Fierro, Esq., attorney for respondent and cross-petitioner, Katherine Coyle Travers (Mark P. Fierro, LLC).

          MINKOWITZ, A.J.S.C.

         This matter was opened to the court on a petition and cross-petition by each of the surviving parents of decedent, John E. Travers, Jr., who died unexpectedly on September 19, 2017, at the age of twenty-two. Oral argument was held on October 30, 2017. Decedent was unmarried and died without issue, without a will, and without any written directive regarding his funeral or disposition of remains. Decedent's parents, who are divorced, differ on how their son's remains should be disposed, and each seeks control over the remains pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:27-22. Decedent's father, John E. Travers, Sr., wishes his son's remains to be buried, while decedent's mother, Katherine Coyle Travers, wishes her son's remains to be cremated.[1] The parties have admirably reached agreement on every other aspect of the administration of their son's estate, including funeral arrangements and estate distribution, and now seek assistance from the court to resolve this one significant issue.

         The pertinent part of the New Jersey Cemetery Act, N.J.S.A. 45:27-22 (Control of funeral, disposition of remains) (the "Statute"), provides as follows:

a. If a decedent, in a will as defined in N.J.S. 3B:1-2, appoints a person to control the funeral and disposition of the human remains, the funeral and disposition shall be in accordance with the instructions of the person so appointed. A person so appointed shall not have to be executor of the will. The funeral and disposition may occur prior to probate of the will, in accordance with section 40 of P.L.2003, c.261 (C.3B:10-21.1). If the decedent has not left a will appointing a person to control the funeral and disposition of the remains, the right to control the funeral and disposition of the human remains shall be in the following order, unless other directions have been given by a court of competent jurisdiction:
(1) The surviving spouse of the decedent.
(2) A majority of the surviving adult children of the decedent.
(3) The surviving parent or parents of the decedent.
(4) A majority of the brothers and sisters of the decedent.
(5) Other next-of-kin of the decedent according to the degree of consanguinity.
(6) If there are no know living relatives, a cemetery may rely on the written authorization of any other person acting on behalf of the decedent.
[N.J.S.A. 45:27-22.]

         "The role of the Court in statutory interpretation 'is to determine and effectuate the Legislature's intent.'" Marino v. Marino, 200 N.J. 315, 329 (2009) (citing Bosland v. Warnock Dodge, Inc., 197 N.J. 543, 553 (2009)). The court must first look to the plain language of the statute to determine whether the Legislature's intent can be derived from the words it has chosen. Ibid. (citing Pizzullo v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co., 196 N.J. 251, 264 (2008)). "[I]f the plain language of the statute is not clear or if it is susceptible to more than one possible meaning or interpretation, courts may look to extrinsic secondary sources to serve as their guide." Ibid. (citation omitted).

         In accord with the Statute, if a decedent has not left a will appointing a person to control disposition and has no surviving spouse or adult children, the Statute confers the right to control the funeral arrangements and disposition of the remains to the surviving parents of the deceased. N.J.S.A. 45:27-22a(3); Gately v. Hamilton Mem'l Home, Inc., 442 N.J.Super. 542, 554 (App. Div. 2015). Moreover, in the event of a dispute, our Supreme Court has confirmed that ...


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