Who Makes the Funeral Decisions?
When a loved one dies, there are many decisions that will have to be made about what to do with the body, where to plan the funeral, and what to do about other financial and personal issues. Most people know that the default person responsible for this decision-making is the spouse, but what if the deceased was unmarried? What if they made alternate arrangements? And what if there is some disagreement about who gets to be in charge?
Advance Funeral Planning and Wills
In almost all cases, the person in charge of a funeral is the one designated by the deceased in a will, legal document, funeral pre-plan contract, or other notarized form. Even if he or she was married, has adult children, or has parents still living, the contract takes precedence over all relationships.
If no legal document was made (or if the person designated in the document is also deceased or physically unable to take charge of the plans), then the decision-making goes automatically to the next of kin.
Next of Kin
We often hear the term “next of kin” when it comes to funeral plans, but what does that actually mean? Who is the next of kin, and how do you untangle close relationships or other family dynamics?
In general, the hierarchy goes like this:
- Children (over the age of eighteen)
- First Cousins
While this list is fairly straightforward, there can be other contributing factors. In some states, a domestic partner carries the same standing as a spouse. Two siblings with an equal right to make decisions may fight over who gets more say. A half-sibling or step parent typically carries as much authority as a full sibling or parent.
In addition, the next of kin can (and sometimes is) contested from a legal standpoint. This usually happens when there is a strong religious or cultural difference that causes a rift in the family. It can also happen when there is a strong financial incentive or burden associated with the deceased’s wishes.
Every state has their own rules and regulations regarding who has the legal right to make decisions about your funeral, which is why it is important to take where you live into account. For more information on individual state laws, visit the Funeral Consumers Alliance, which breaks down the laws by state and provides links to additional information.