The days immediately following the death of a loved one are a difficult time often accompanied by having to make big decisions, including decisions regarding funeral arrangements and disposition of remains. The burden of this can be eased by planning in advance for your funeral and burial arrangements. Advance planning can also reduce disagreements among family members if some have a traditional perspective while others take a contemporary approach.
Leaving wishes regarding your funeral and disposition can be done informally through family conversations where everyone is present or more formally through a contract with a funeral home or written instructions. In Massachusetts, a contract can be entered into with a funeral home making arrangements in advance for funeral and burial services and arranging with a bank or insurance company for payment of funeral and burial costs. Payment is made to the funeral home at the time services are actually rendered. Another option is to leave a signed and witnessed written document leaving instructions regarding the nature of funeral services and disposition of remains.
In Massachusetts, first priority is given to the contract with the funeral home. In the absence of a contract, a written document signed and witnessed will control. In the absence of either of those, a funeral home must follow the instructions of the deceased person's next of kin in the following order of priority:
- the surviving spouse of the deceased
- the surviving adult children of the deceased
- the surviving parent(s) of the deceased
- the surviving brother(s) or sister(s) of the deceased
- the guardian of the person of the deceased at the time of his or her death
- any other person authorized or obligated by law to dispose of the remains of the deceased
If there is disagreement among the members of any of the above groups, a majority rules, and if a majority cannot be reached, a court decides. This may be important to keep in mind if you are not survived by a spouse but are survived by children or siblings who may not agree among themselves about funeral arrangements and disposition.
A little pre-planning with respect to funeral arrangements and disposition can alleviate potential family conflict as well as allow you to make your own decisions about your funeral and disposition. Just as you would plan for your finances after death, exercising the ability to leave assets how and to whom you wish, you can also do the same for your funeral.