By Amy E. Feldman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, a man born to a Native American mother, who’s believed to be the greatest athlete of all time, finds himself in the crosshairs of a dispute more than 50 years after his death.
Thorpe’s third wife seized his body from his Native American funeral service and, for $500, gave the body to the tiny town of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, which renamed itself Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. His sons sued under a 1990 law to repatriate Native American artifacts to be returned to tribal property so he could be buried on Native American ground. The sons lost an appeal on the case and have now asked to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Beyond the narrow issue of tribal rights, you need to consider this: state laws vary but in general the right to determine the method and place of your burial is yours so write and notarize your wishes before you die. If you don’t, once you’re gone, your spouse – or next of kin if there is no spouse – generally has the right to decide.
Once buried, it will be up to the court to exhume and rebury you. To prevent decades of fighting among those you love the most, discuss your wishes while you still can run the show.