Understanding Who Has the Legal Authority to Make Funeral Arrangements

By: VGFS
Sunday, October 17, 2021

When a loved one passes away, there are many details to attend to and choices to be made. The planning for funeral arrangements alone usually requires more than 100 decisions, such as:

·       Burial or cremation

·       Whether to hold a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life

·       Whether the service should follow religious or cultural customs

·       Choosing the location for the services

Unless the departed specifically expressed their funeral wishes in advance, the authority for making these decisions depends on state laws that are based on familial relationships. In some situations, the party responsible for making decisions about the funeral can be unclear and even contested.

In this article, we will explain the legal order of who has the right to make funeral arrangements.

Honor the wishes of the departed first

If the deceased designated someone to make choices regarding their disposition, that preference must be honored. This designation may have been made in a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will, or another properly executed legal document, such as an Authorization for Final Disposition. If the deceased didn't make any preferences legally known, then the decision falls to the nearest living relative, known as the ‘next of kin’ (NOK). The Next of Kin hierarchy is followed until someone who is able to make these decisions can be found.

Follow the Next of Kin Hierarchy

To qualify as next of kin in this situation, the individual must be over the age of 18. The relationships indicated typically apply equally to biological, adoptive, half-, and step-relations.

1.     Spouse: Legal authority falls to the spouse or domestic partner if they are living and able to perform funeral arrangements. This person is also able to make decisions about the disposal of the body and the choice of burial or cremation. They are to refer to the wishes of the departed if they are reasonable. 

2.     Adult children: If there are several adult children, most states require them to work together in some way. The majority decision of the adult children rules. If an agreement on the funeral and estate is not reached, the matter could go to probate court. 

3.     Parents of the deceased: While most parents don’t want to think about planning their adult child’s funeral, it is sometimes necessary. Parents step in with legal authority if there is no living spouse or children.

4.     Siblings: If the parents are no longer living or if they are unable to perform the duties involved in funeral preparations, siblings then have authority. Similar to adult children, in situations where there is more than one sibling, the majority rules.

5.     Next of kin: If no siblings exist, funeral arrangements then go to another family member. This could be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, cousin, etc. Some states allow close friends to step in as the next of kin.

6.     If there's no next of kin: Sometimes people die without any family and are considered to have no next of kin. In this case, the county offers its services. They first attempt to locate any family or legal documentation that may outline funeral preferences. If none is found, the county's Social Services Department steps in to handle the necessary arrangements. 

Especially in cases where there are disjointed families or disputes over cultural, religious, or geographic differences, coming to an agreement about who has the right to control funeral arrangements can be challenging. This hierarchy exists to remove some of the questions and to make this stressful time a little bit easier for surviving family members. The best way to avoid disputes and questions is to prepare your funeral wishes in advance.

Planning a loved one’s funeral is an emotional task. Our goal is to make you as comfortable as possible and assist you with the decision-making process. We are always available to answer any questions you may have, so please contact us anytime.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

Leave a comment
Name*:
Email:
Comment*:
Please enter the numbers and letters you see in the image. Note that the case of the letters entered matters.

Comments

Please wait

Previous Posts

Funeral Attire 101: What to Wear and What to Avoid

When it comes to funerals, dressing in a way that demonstrates respect for the departed is always in good taste. As styles change and the rules for these events continue to evolve, it may leave yo...

The Shakedown on Salt: Six Tips for Avoiding Hidden Sodium

Consuming too much sodium can be harmful to your heart. It’s been linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular issues including heart disease and stroke. Research has also conn...

The Practical Guide to Estate Planning: Eight Important Facts Everyone Should Know

Everyone can benefit from having a plan in place if the unexpected happens. Still, more than half of American adults lack basic estate planning documents, according to the American Association of ...

Do You Know How to Plan for Your Pet’s Care After Your Passing?

What would happen to your pet if you passed away unexpectedly? Without a plan in place, the results can be tragic. Part of responsible pet ownership includes taking the necessary steps to ensure ...

Expressing Sympathies at a Virtual Funeral: Seven Essential Rules of Digital Etiquette

When the pandemic forced the world to remain apart, virtual funeral services allowed family members and loved ones to come together regardless of physical distance. Now that restrictions have ease...

Casket vs. Coffin: Six Key Differences You Should Know

Both coffins and caskets serve as burial containers that hold the body of the departed. While the terms casket and coffin are often used interchangeably, these vessels have some important differenc...

How Much Do You Know About the Rooms in a Funeral Home and Their Uses

From traditional brick facades with imposing marble pillars to sleek modern buildings and quaint Victorians, funeral homes come in many styles and sizes. Have you ever thought about the many purpos...

How to Announce Funeral Services: Five Tried and True Suggestions

Funeral announcements serve as loving tributes to those who are no longer with us. Most people are unsure of what to include in these communications, so we have compiled some helpful information an...

Can You Pass a Funeral Procession? Important Protocols Everyone Should Know

There is nothing in the Maryland Driver's Handbook that addresses what to do when encountering a funeral procession. It’s not surprising that many motorists are unsure of the rules of the road fo...

Fill Your Plate with These Seven Inflammation-Busting Foods

At Vaughn Greene Funeral Services, we care about your health. And being informed about nutrition and gut health is an important part of managing your health care. Chronic inflammation is li...