Disposition of Remains

In the state of California, unless you are military personnel, the exclusive right to dispose of your remains is given to your acting agent designated in your Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD). If your agent refuses or fails to act on that right, and there are no named successors, priority is given in the following order: to your surviving spouse, surviving child(ren), surviving parent(s), and then your adult sibling(s).

However, as long as your final wishes are not in conflict with appropriate health and safety codes, the person who is in control of your remains must follow your written instructions when it comes to disposition of your body and funeral arrangements.

If the individual in control of your remains is charged with your murder or voluntary manslaughter, they will lose the right to make decisions regarding your remains.

Organ Donation

You may make specific, directed anatomical gifts in your AHCD or the Donate Life California Registry process at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Your health care agent may also make these gifts post-death on your behalf if you have granted them such authority.

However, as set forth in the U.S. Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, DMV designations for organ donor status override your written wishes in an AHCD, regardless of the date of execution. This is important to note because AHCDs are carefully drafted in legal terms, likely reflected on by you and your loved ones, while your DMV designation is never more than a quick thought you have while in line to renew your license. If you are considering retaining an attorney to create your estate plan, it may be beneficial to think about what you indicated at your last DMV appointment and if it still aligns with your last wishes.

Over thirteen million Californians are registered as organ donors, with over ninety percent of those through the DMV. You may also register via Donate Life using Apple’s Medical ID feature. If you’re registered as a donor—or even if you’re not—you may want to read the LA Times’ new article in their series on organ harvesting protocols as for-profit tissue processors and distributors are on the rise.


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.