Screen legend Mickey Rooney (shown above with Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet") passed away at the age of 93 on April 6, 2014. Estranged from his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlin, Rooney had been living with his stepson, Mark Rooney, and wife Charlene for two years. He died in their home and his body was taken to the funeral home at Forest Lawn cemetery. According to the Los Angeles Times, here's what happened next:
After his death, his wife, Jan Chamberlin, and her son, Christopher Aber, contacted Forest Lawn and tried to move Rooney's body against his expressed wishes, [Michael] Augustine [Rooney's conservator sine 2011] alleged in court papers filed Tuesday morning.
Charlene Rooney said she and Mark received a call from Forest Lawn about the attempt a few hours after Rooney's passing.
"Mickey was not even gone for a few hours, he had just left here on a gurney, and this ugliness started," she said. "Mickey hasn't even seen or spoken to Jan in two years, Chris in almost three years."
Yevgeny Belous, one of Chamberlin's attorneys, said his client simply wanted to give Rooney a "befitting" burial.
"It's Mickey Rooney, after all," he said. "Everyone involved wants to make sure Mickey is honored, and we don't want to spend unnecessary time and effort in a court fight."
Chamberlin and Aber believe Rooney's wishes were to be interred at a Westlake Village cemetery alongside a plot for Chamberlin, said John O'Meara, an attorney for Aber and his wife, Christina.
Augustine, who has Mark and Charlene's support, said Rooney had told him he wanted to be buried at a veterans cemetery or alongside other film stars at a Hollywood one.
Bruce Ross, an attorney for Augustine and Rooney's estate, said Rooney had chosen to separate from his wife while he was living and would not have wanted to be buried next to her.
"They had agreed to live permanently apart. It would be a shame if now that he's died, they were reunited," he said.
O'Meara, Aber's attorney, said Tuesday that his client was only looking after the best interests of his mother, who legally remained Rooney's wife.
"Chris stands with his mother, wants what's best for his mother: to be buried next to her husband of many years," O'Meara said. "It's wildly offensive to keep Mickey Rooney's wife away from the process of burying her husband."
The fact that Rooney's wife and stepson are in court suggests that Rooney failed to take advantage of California Health and Safety Code Section 7100.1, which permits a decedent to leave written instructions regarding the disposition of his remains and the funeral goods and services to be provided. If he failed to leave written instructions or execute a health care power of attorney that addressed the rights to disposition, then it is likely that under California Health and Safety Code Section 7100, his wife will ultimately prevail, regardless of Rooney's wishes. Although some states do not permit the surviving spouse to take control of the remains if they were separated from the decedent, California has no such exception. If Ms. Chamberlin did not prevail, however, Rooney's stepson still wouldn't be next in line. Instead, the majority of his competent adult children would be permitted to control his remains. Rooney was estranged from most of his nine children, including Aber.
This sad case illustrates once again that people, especially those with complicated family situations, should make their funeral and burial preferences known prior to death, in accordance with the law. It is in no one's best interests to have these disputes resolved in court while the decedent's remains lie at the funeral home.