Who Has the Right to Plan for Your Funeral?
The best way to make funeral arrangements less stressful
The authority to make funeral arrangements on behalf of a loved one is based on the closeness of the relationship. This creates a hierarchy of authority levels which can be confusing and hence, the best way to make funeral planning less stressful is to prepare your funeral wishes well in advance. Your guidelines can help avoid conflict after your death. You can go through the state laws and make your preparations, accordingly. Please note that the person responsible for making the funeral arrangements isn’t necessarily the same person responsible for funeral costs. The cost is borne by your estate and you can also pre-pay for your funeral to lessen the burden on your family.
The decisions to be made while funeral planning
The grief of losing a loved one aside, there are many important decisions to be made post-death. The authority for these decisions depends on specific state laws as well as if the deceased had expressed any specific funeral wishes. Some of the common decisions are
- Whether to bury or cremate your body after death.
- Whether to hold a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life?
- Which religious or cultural customs to follow at your funeral?
- Which place shall the funeral services take place?
- Whether to have a virtual funeral in case meeting in person isn't possible due to a pandemic or some other reason?
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The levels of authority responsible for making funeral arrangements
The person who will be responsible for making funeral arrangements is given this authority based on the nature and closeness of their relationship with the deceased or any funeral wishes. The levels of authority are as follows:
Under most state laws, the first level of authority is the deceased themselves, and the funeral arrangements are done in accordance with the funeral instructions written when they were alive. You can entrust your funeral instructions to an estate lawyer or a close relative, to allow them to know your wishes after your death. In case, there are no funeral instructions from the deceased, the state moves to the next level of authority.
As per many state laws, an advance directive is a document in which you list someone as your health care agent as a part of your medical wishes in case you aren’t able to speak for yourself. Unless instructed otherwise by you, your healthcare agent shall be authorized to make your funeral arrangements by most states.
The third tier of legal authority rests on your spouse or domestic partner if they’re alive and capable of performing funeral arrangements. They can decide on whether to hold a cremation or burial or any other method of disposing of the deceased’s body.
After your spouse, the responsibility falls on your adult children. Minors are not authorized to make funeral decisions. In the case of multiple adult children, the states require them to work together on making funeral arrangements. But in case there is a dispute, then the matter is decided by the probate court.
In case you don’t have a spouse or children, it is your parents who will have to make funeral arrangements for you.
In case your parents are not alive or not capable of holding funerals due to their age, then your siblings must shoulder the responsibility of funeral arrangements. Like adult children, siblings are also requested to work together.
In case you have no immediate family, the burden of your funeral arrangement could land on your extended family members such as a grandparent, uncle, or niece. A friend too can take this place, in case there is no next of kin.
In case there is also no next of kin, then the country’s social service department makes arrangements to hold inexpensive burials.
Dispute over the next of kin
Disputes over who is the next of kin may arise along cultural, religious, or geographic lines. These disputes are settled by the probate court.