Category Archives: Legal Issues with Funerals and Death

These article outline laws and legal issues with preparing a will, trust, estate, funeral law, and consumer rights in funeral and end-of-life planning

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Help Stop DC from Squashing Death with Dignity Legislation

From the Death With Dignity National Organization:

The clock is ticking. The companion resolutions in the U.S. Senate (SJ Res 4) and House (HJ Res 27) to block the Washington, D.C. Death with Dignity Act are moving through the legislative process, getting closer and closer to a vote.

The same members of Congress who talk nonstop about small government and states’ rights are seeking to use their federal power and their personal views to override the will of the Washington, D.C. residents, whom they don’t even represent. Worse, more and more Representatives and Senators are signing on as co-sponsors. Whereas two members of Congress introduced the resolutions, last week their ranks grew to 13, and now there are 20 in all.

This attack on the District residents’ rights is a growing threat, and we must match its force—not just for the District, but to preserve the gains we’ve made since 1994. While we are actively working behind the scenes with our friends and allies in the D.C. Council and Congress, we need your help to preserve our victory in D.C.

Please call your members of Congress and urge them to vote against the SJ Res 4/HJ Res 27 resolution!

Once you are connected, tell the staffer on the line that you are a constituent and would like the Representative/Senator to know that you oppose the resolution to disapprove of the D.C. Death with Dignity Act. That’s it.

If you think, “I don’t live in D.C., this doesn’t concern me,” think again: We know from our experience in Oregon that if the D.C. bill goes down, a national ban on assisted dying may be next. Already, Rep. Wenstrup has tweeted that, “Congress failing to act would imply federal approval of physician-assisted suicide.” These members of Congress are not just after Washington, D.C., they want to stop the growing momentum we’ve built in passing Death with Dignity laws across the country.

Your members of Congress are obligated to hear their constituents’ voices. All calls, both for and against, are tallied. If you do not make that call, the tally will give a mistaken impression that their constituents do not care about the issue or want them to vote differently. It’s much harder for your Representative/Senators to vote down the resolution if the only constituents they hear from are its supporters. Your call is especially critical if your members of Congress are leaning toward voting for the resolution. Nothing sways your electeds’ vote like overwhelming opposition from their constituents!

Please call your members of Congress and urge them to oppose H.J. Res 27/S.J. Res 4 today.

Your Representative is here:

Your Senators are here:

Thank you for making the most important call of this year,

Peg Sandeen
Executive Director


Cremation Not Included: FCA Study Reveals All

When a loved one passes away, those tasked with arranging funerals and settling estates have to make a multitude of decisions during a stressful time and on a deadline. Cremation? Burial? Embalming? Organ Donation? The possibilities are endless and the choices made often have a lasting effect and although we try to make the most informed decision possible, no one really knows all the questions to ask. So when the Federal Trade Commission created the Funeral Rule in 1984, which requires funeral homes and providers to disclose all their disposition option,rates and pricing on a General Price List, consumers were reassured and confident their rights were being protected. But when a funeral home falsifies or fails to disclose important pricing information, what happens?

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On September 12 the Consumer Federation of America’s Executive Director  Stephen Brobeck and Josh Slocum, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumer Alliance held a teleconference following the spontaneous release of an in-depth study on the cost of dying, with a special report on the cost of simple cremation, in America. The results were nothing short of surprising.

The CFA and FCA investigated 142 funeral homes in the top ten metropolitan cities in America including Atlanta, Denver, D.C., Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Princeton, Seattle, Southern California, and Tucson. They examined the General Price Lists disclosed by the homes, compared them to the actual fees charged, as well as the practices and services provided and found a substantial difference in cremation pricing and blatant exploitation of a loophole revealed in the Funeral Rule laws.

Of 142 funeral homes and cremation businesses surveyed:

—prices for Direct Cremation ranged from $495 to $7,595.

— 33 of funeral homes failed to list legally required options and disclosures on their general price lists. This is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule.

—Of the 46 funeral homes that post Direct Cremation prices on their websites, 12 (26%) failed to offer these options and disclosures. If the Funeral Rule applied to websites, these would be in violation.

—Thirty-one of the surveyed funeral homes (22%) advertised a price for their Direct Cremation package that failed to include the cost of the cremation process itself, making the price for a simple cremation seem artificially low. Though this is not a direct violation of the Funeral Rule, it is inherently deceptive and the FTC should bar this practice.

According to the report, the Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to provide two options when selecting cremation as the chosen means of final disposition:

“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer supplies their own casket or cardboard “alternative container” to hold the body prior to cremation, such as a homemade casket or a container bought from a third-party retailer,”


“The price of Direct Cremation when the customer buys the funeral home’s least expensive alternative container.”

But of the 142 funeral homes investigated, 23% of them failed to list the legally required service options which is a direct violation of the Funeral Rule. In addition, the advertised prices for a simple cremation and the actual cost differed $200, at least, and $595 at most. With the cost of cremation not included in the GPL, low and middle-income consumers were at risk being blindsided by the exorbitant fees and unable to afford even the most simple method of disposition.

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Since the services provided with a simple cremation does not vary between one funeral home and another, the prices and the differences did not add up. A Direct Cremation consists of picking up and transporting the body, filing paperwork, and returning the ashes to the family. There are no ceremonies included, no casket, and no ornamental urn aside from the basic container when a direct or simple cremation is chosen and yet, prices could vary as much as 200 percent for the same service in the same city, according to the report. While many funeral homes use third-party crematories, as they do not have their own, these crematories charge somewhere between $250 and $400 for a cremation, pointing to a large discrepancy in ethical practices and pricing. But if the 2012, 2013 and 2014 lawsuits filed against a NY, Montgomery and D.C. funeral home by the FTC are any indication, the people will soon have their justice.

The full report can be accessed here.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

The FTC educates and provides comprehensive guidance services to businesses and consumers in how to comply. For more information read Shopping for Funeral Services, Paying Final Respects:  Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods and Services, and Complying with the Funeral Rule.

Pablo Garcia Saldana

Everything You Need to Know About Death Certificates

When a loved one dies, you’ll need to order death certificates to submit to certain agencies to shut down accounts or collect benefits. But how many death certificates should you order? Below you’ll learn about the purpose of death certificates, typical uses, how to order them, and how many death certificates you should order.

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What is a death certificate?

A death certificate is an official government issued document that states the date, time, location and cause of death. Certificates were originally made and kept by churches, until 1910 when standardized records became mandated by law. In addition to verifying the cause of someone’s death, death certificates are used to track changes in society and mortality trends.

Death certificates must be completed by a medical practitioner (doctor, hospice nurse, medical examiner, coroner, etc.) and funeral director, licensed burial agent, or person acting as such (i.e. family member).

Alan Crawford, Getty Images

The medical practitioner completes questions relating to the cause and manner of death, whether an autopsy was performed, if tobacco use contributed to the death, etc.

The funeral director, agent or person acting as such, will need the following information about the deceased:

Full name

Social security number

Date of birth

Place of birth

Address at the time of death

Marital status

Surviving spouse’s name

Whether they served in the armed forces

Father and mother’s name (maiden included)

Place of death

Highest level of education


Usual occupation and industry/business

In most states, death certificates are filed using the Electronic Death Registration Systems, or EDRS. In other areas, death certificates are filed with the registrar and county health department. While it varies state by state, typically deaths must be reported to the local health department within 72 hours of the death and to the state within five to seven days.

Why do I need to get death certificates?

Death certificates are needed for a plethora of reasons including to close accounts, claim benefits, and file taxes. For legal matters, an official certificate is needed while other institutions only require a copy.

Generally needs a copy:
  • Social security
  • Banks
  • Credit cards
  • Utilities and phone companies
Likely requires an original:
  • Pensions
  • Military benefits
  • Property transfer (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
  • Insurance
  • 401Ks and stocks (if managed by stock broker, only one copy needed)
  • Selling an estate
  • Property claims
  • Closing a business
  • Future marriages


Where can I get a death certificate?

If you are using a funeral home, ordering them from the funeral director is the easiest way. If you need to order them yourself, you can get them from the county or state vital records office.

To find the state vital records office, click on the relevant state link here:

In some states, you can order death certificates through VitalChek, a website that manages records for many government agencies. They charge a $5-$15 fee per order.


Who can order a certified copy of death certificates?

Certified copies are generally only available to immediate family members, executors, and those who can prove that they have a direct financial interest in the estate. Informational copies are generally available to anyone who requests them.

How many death certificates should you order?

Consider the number of different institutions that might need one; each bank, investment company, etc. and for each property to be transferred; house, boat, etc. A person a modest means may only need three, while a wealthier person could need 10 or more.

How much do death certificates cost?

The fees for death certificates are set by the state or county. Generally the first copy of a death certificate is more than additional copies. You can expect to pay $10 -$25 for the first certified copy. The local registrar or funeral director will be able to tell you how much a death certificate costs.

Whether you are stopping into your local county or city registrar office or ordering online, copies can be paid for with credit card or check, but not with cash. Tip: keep your receipts, as fees for death certificates can sometimes be reimbursed from the estate if agreed upon with the executor.


Estate Planning: When We Leave Pets Behind

Since 1947, when the term ‘nuclear family,’ was first popularized, house-pets have been considered a crucial part of the basic social unit in America.

There are over 70 million cats and over 70 million dogs occupying over 30% of American households. That is more than enough furry friends to stretch around the Earth, nose to tail, more than twice. Yet despite their common presence within our homes, house pets are the most overlooked when their owner falls ill or passes away. It is not uncommon for family members or respective authorities to happen upon a house pet forgotten in the deceased’s home days, sometimes weeks, following their death. Which brings the question to mind:

What can you do if it looks like you’ll be leaving your furry (or scaly) friend behind?

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The average cat and dog live an approximate 14 years and a majority of that time they are surrounded by love in an inclusive social environment and accustomed to a certain level of care. If suddenly removed, pets can become depressed, lethargic, ill and even hostile. Without a proper plan in place, your little friend risks being sent to a shelter, or worse; euthanized. As a cherished member of your family, it is recommended you create the proper preventative measures for your pets in case something tragic befalls you by way of estate planning. From identifying potential caregivers to establishing a pet trust, I’m Sorry to Hear has made a list of options you should consider when pre-planning your pets care.


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In Case of Emergency, Find a Caregiver

From earthquake to flood to sudden accidental death, a number of events have the potential of keeping you from returning home today. So in case of an emergency, some estate planning steps should be undertaken today. The first step is to identify any potential emergency caregivers in your life. This should be someone with experience caring for pets, someone your pet has met before, or someone you know who has pets of their own.

Once you have drafted a list of multiple people, get in contact with them and discuss it in full. You will need to secure multiple possible caregivers for various types of situations. For example:

1. Emergency or Temporary Caregiver

If you get into a car accident and end up in the hospital, it would be best if you set aside a spare set of house keys, list of duties and locations of food, medicine and the phone number to your veterinarian for a neighbor or family member who lives within close proximity. This will be your temporary emergency caregiver. Keep the contact information of any emergency caregivers on your person at all times should you need to contact them.


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2. Extended Caregiver or Pet Nanny

If your stay in the hospital becomes an extended one, you should make reservations for a pet nanny. This will be someone who you trust staying in your home, or bringing your pet to their home. Your pet nanny should have a detailed list of any behavioral traits, medical history, daily care instructions and behavioral guides. You should set aside money in a hidden location your pet nanny can access to help care for your pet. Thoroughly discuss any expectations and duties your emergency caregiver and pet nanny will have and make provisions for them.

3. Permanent Caregivers

When making arrangements for emergency pet care, you should also consider making formal long-term emergency arrangements. In order to do so, you will need to consult with an attorney and identify any potential pet godmothers and godfathers. These are the people who will be responsible for permanently caring for your pet should you pass away, and making a will or trust will ensure your pet is properly provided for. A pet godmother or godfather should be someone with financial and emotional means necessary to give long term care.


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There are a variety of legally binding agreements you can make with your pet godmother or godfather including a Will, a Trust, and a Pet Protection Agreement.


While a will is the most common, leaving a substantial sum of money for the care of your pet via a will runs the risk of being contested by a relative or heir.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust, whether honorary, traditional, or life, or Pet Protection Agreement are the best route to go if you have a young and healthy pet.

Of the 50 states in America, all states except Minnesota recognize pet trusts and allow pet owners to set aside money to help care for a pet and compensate caregivers for their work, though some limits apply. A trust in most states is either limited in the amount of funds, life of pet or 21 years, whichever comes first. Unlike a will, which might take months or even years to come into effect, trusts can be accessed immediately and keeps the control of money separate from care provided, ensuring their adherence. They cannot be contested and are effective during the owner’s life as well as after their death.

Pet Protection Agreements

In case you choose to pursue something less formal, a Pet Protection Agreement can be made. A Pet Protection Agreement is a legally binding document that a paralegal, trustee, investment advisor or even an accountant can help you complete. Pet Protection Agreements are valid immediately after signing, regulate the flow of money and guarantees the care of your beloved pet.


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It’s About Time to Retire

Whether you choose to make a will, trust , or Pet Protection Agreement, it is important you take proper care in choosing your care givers. Any formal documents made should be copied and given to all relevant parties as soon as they are made. In instances where no proper caregiver can be found, there are countless organizations that specialize in the long-term care of household pets. Pet retirement homes and sanctuaries exist to oversee the estate planning and care for pets after their owner’s death. If considering choosing a pet retirement home or sanctuary, it is imperative you visit their facility to get a feel for the conditions, policies and procedures they  adhere to, to see if they would be the right fit for you and your pet.

By pre-planning and managing your estate, pets included, you are guaranteeing the safety and care of your pet and friend should they out live you. Because we understand that a pet is very much a part of the family and should be treated as such, we recommend you make the details involving their care as detailed as you would if it were a small child you were leaving behind as opposed to a cat, dog, rabbit or ferret.


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For more information on Paying for a Funeral, funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.

Anders Jilden

Paying for a Funeral with Auto Insurance Coverage

When faced with a devastating loss, the pressure of locating funeral and burial funds can wreak havoc and stress on newly bereaved families. There are many steps you can take to alleviate some of the costs; from foregoing a wake in favor of a direct burial or cremation and hosting a memorial later, to hosting your own home funeral. But in instances where the cause of death of the deceased was automobile related there is a chance your auto insurance, or the auto insurance of the other party, will cover all or part of your funeral costs through the use of PIP, No-fault coverage, or accidental death coverage policies.

Any death related claim is required to have taken place within a certain window of time, stipulated in your policy, though it is typically within 90 days of the accident. The deceased must have been disabled from the time of the accident to their death, or died due to a complication related to the accident, for death benefits to be paid. Make sure to check with your insurance company to verify the terms of your policy and familiarize yourself with its limitations.

Cr: Bethany Legg

Credit: Bethany Legg

The insurance company will only settle if the death was clearly a result of the accident so be sure to save any bills or medical reports from the moment treatment begins. It is recommended you request copies of all relevant documents to send to your insurance company, the insurance company of the opposite party, and extra copies for your records. Insurance companies cannot request medical bills and documents on your behalf so you must keep clear records if you intend to file a claim.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, is a form of coverage that covers medical expenses and, in some cases, lost wages, damages, and other death benefits. As long as you purchased a plan above the absolute minimum coverage, your insurance policy will specifically cover ordinary funeral and burial expenses of any persons deceased as the result of an accident. These are “protected” benefits, which means they have to be paid even if other benefits, such as medical expenses, have been paid in full.

There are some limitations, though, and most PIP insurance policies will have an established window of time in which a claim must be filed in as well as a duration of time payments will be made for. When applying for survivor benefits, one must bear the burden of proof and provide proper documentation where lost wages and other death benefits, outside of funeral and burial costs, are concerned.

No-Fault Coverage

If you live in a No-fault State, your insurance is required to cover the cost of your injuries as long as your plan is above the state’s minimum requirement. In No-fault sates, if you purchased a PIP policy, it will automatically cover a minimum to be claimed by your or your passengers in the event of an injury, regardless of who is at fault, including certain death benefits like funeral and burial fees.

If you reside outside of one of these “no-fault” states, make sure you check with your insurance company to determine the level of coverage required for the same benefits. Also, some no-fault states may allow you to substitute your personal health insurance policy as your primary medical coverage, which can help reduce your PIP coverage premiums.

No-Fault States:

Hawaii, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York and Utah

Choice States:

The following states allow drivers to choose between a fault and no fault car insurance system: District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Accidental Death Coverage

Accidental Death Coverage, also known as Automobile Death Indemnity, provides coverage for funeral expenses if the driver of your vehicle is at fault for a motor vehicle related death. Depending on the insurance company and plan, Accidental Death Coverage generally offers $5,000 to $15,000 worth of benefits and is a relatively inexpensive add-on. Ordinarily, death benefits are paid out to any persons named in the declaration page of the deceased if they passed as a result of an injury sustained from a car accident. Recipients can be a spouse, child, parents of a minor, or payments can go to the estate of the insured. Keep in mind, Accidental Death Coverage does not necessarily pay for your own injuries and damages to your car or property.


Each policy will have certain exclusions to their coverage so be sure to consult with your insurance company to clarify who is insured under your policy. At times, relatives, members of the same household or those who use your car may not be included in your policy if they are not explicitly declared. In addition, death benefits are optional, meaning you may not be covered for all funeral and burial expenses, lost wages, and/or damages. As a result, you may be susceptible to lawsuits which may put your home and other assets at risk.

Through car insurance policies that include Personal Injury Protection (PIP), No-fault Coverage, and Accidental Death Coverage, money may be available to you following a motor vehicle related death within your own car insurance policy, or through the car insurance policy of the other parties involved. Make sure you understand your state’s requirements and the limitations of your policy. It is recommended you consult an insurance attorney or lawyer if you are considering filing a claim following a death.

For more information on Paying for a Funeral, funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.

Your Guide to Home Burials

What is a home burial?

A home burial is the burial of the deceased on private property often located in rural areas. Home burials offer a hands-on approach to caring for your loved one post death. It is also one of the most economical ways to bury a loved one since you don’t have to purchase property in a cemetery or follow cemetery regulations such as having a casket, outer burial container (vault or grave liner), or headstone – this can save you thousands of dollars.

Home burials also offer the convenience of being close to home and reduce space-restrictions associated with a family plot in a cemetery. Another bonus is that home burials are inherently green – providing minimal negative impact to the environment. With that in mind, is is even legal to bury your family on your private property?

Can you bury a family member on your property?

Yes, in almost every state it is legal to bury your loved ones on private property as long as it is in a rural or semi-rural area and you have the approval of the local municipality. According to one New York Times article, Home Burials Offer an Intimate Alternative, the number of home burials and home funerals have continued to rise in due part to the intimacy it provides and much lower cost of a home burial.

Although there are many advantages to home burials, there are still some areas to consider beforehand such as preparing the body, products for home burial, burial site preparations, selling the property and re- sale value of the property.

When looking at the legal aspects of home burials, each state has different laws. There are 3 different scenarios that vary state by state:

  • Some states do not mandate any outside involvement in the funeral and burial – you can do it all yourself.
  • Some states mandate a funeral director’s involvement, from signing the death certificate to overseeing burial or cremation. These states include Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and New York.
  • Other states do not allow home burials at all such as California, Indiana, and Washington.

For more information about your specific state see our state by state end-of-life guides or visit Funeral Ethics Org to find out laws in your state (see the burial section for your state). 

What should we consider for a home burial?

Preparing the Body for Home Burial

Preparing the body for burial includes washing and clothing the body and placing it in a burial shroud or coffin or casket, if you choose to use one. This is a very intimate process therefore make sure you are ready to take on the task of preparing the body as it can be extremely personal and emotional. Home funeral guides and death doulas can be a great resource for those who would like some assistance in taking care of their own.

Other considerations including filing the death certificate and transporting the body to the burial site. Most states require a transportation permit.

Products for Home Burial

A home burial does not require all the expensive products involved with a conventional burial including a casket, outer burial container, or a headstone. If you chose a home burial and desire any of these products you can purchase them from a variety of places. A majority of these products can be purchased online – check AmazonWalmart, or other independent online retailers. You can also check with your local funeral home, cemetery, or casket store.

Burial Site Preparation

Preparing the burial site includes digging the grave, lining the grave (in some instances), placing the body in the ground, and covering it with dirt. When preparing the site you must follow zoning laws and regulations. Some states have specific requirements for location and distance from landmarks such as bodies of water and hospitals.

Another requirement that should be verified is the depth of the grave. Though not typically as deep as cemeteries that require an outer burial container and casket, many local governments require a set distance between the top of the body and the ground surface (3.5 feet is typical in green burials in the USA). 

Filling permits, such as death certificates, with the state government may be necessary as well in order for the burial to be considered legal.

What Happens to Home Burial Grounds After You Sell Your Property

According to another NY Times article, Did I Mention the Graves Out Back?, zoning for a burial ground carries certain perpetuity clauses and restrictions so that later landowners know of the cemetery’s existence. The deed to the property has to have a restriction placed on it as well, to ensure people will know of the cemetery’s existence at a later point in time.

New landowners typically don’t have the ability to move the body after they purchase the land. Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, stated in the same NY Times article that, “It is illegal to dismantle cemeteries or remove gravestones. Property owners must go through a lengthy legal process before altering such a site, often requiring that they obtain permission from relatives. Other avenues include seeking a court order to have the graves moved to another cemetery, or trying to deed the land to a municipality so as to shift responsibility for its care.”

A 1959 Oklahoma case was one of the first cases to deal with a new landowner wanting to move an existing burial site that was located on their new property. The court upheld the permanency created by the family burial ground so the burial site could not be moved. 

Re-Sale Value of Properties with Home Burial Grounds

Within the deed to your house you must include a map showing where the burial site is on the land so the new owners know where it is located. Did I Mention the Graves Out Back?, sites some examples of home burial grounds and their affect on resale value. For some buyers, a home burial ground could be a total turnoff. For others, it’s all part of the property’s history.

It’s just another point to keep in mind if you are establishing a burial site on your property. If you move or no one in your family takes over your property when you’ve passed on, then are you comfortable with someone else inhabiting the property and taking care of the graves? Will the new owners embrace this land and care for it or will they let it be overgrown?

For more funeral planning tools and resources, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library, download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, see your State by State Guide on End of Life issues, get information on How to Pay for a Funeral, view Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links all from our Resources area.

How to Appoint a Designated Funeral Agent

funeral-costs-1Appointing a designated funeral agent is a legal way for you to specify a person to be in charge of arranging your funeral. This could entail trusting them to follow through with your personal funeral preferences or allowing them to be in charge of all funeral decisions and the arrangement of your funeral. Appointment of a funeral agent trumps the normal next-of-kin rules as outlined by the state you live in (spouse, children, parents, living relatives, etc….). Funeral agents can be anyone: executors of estates, your spouse, one of your children, a parent, another relative, or a friend with whom you trust to carry out your funeral wishes.

What Does a Designated Funeral Agent Do?

A person who is designated as a funeral agent is in charge of making the funeral arrangements and utilizing any money set aside for this purpose in the will of the deceased.

It is best to have a discussion with the person you would like to appoint as your designated funeral agent, get their consent, and buy-in prior to appointing them as such. This helps avoid surprises and ensures they are on the same page as you with what your funeral wishes are.

However, following death, but prior to the official proving of the will, the executor of the will must inform the funeral agent of their appointment, and let them know how much money is available for funeral expenses.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance notes that,

“a designated agent is not obligated to carry out the wishes of the deceased if they’re highly impractical, illegal, or financially burdensome. It’s very important for the designator and agent to understand how much their wishes will cost, and to plan and budget accordingly. The designator should not expect the agent to pay for a costly funeral if there is no money set aside for that expense.”

If a person does not want the responsibility as funeral agent, then someone else should be appointed to arrange the funeral on the designator’s behalf. If that right is waived, the control of the funeral passes to other individuals in the order outlined in the state’s right-to-control hierarchy.

Why Appoint a Designated Funeral Agent?

Those who may want to consider delegating a funeral agent are people who think their relatives may not honor their funeral wishes or pre-arrangements. Also, if a state’s law outlines the next-of-kin as multiple people with a requirement that all agree, this may cause a conflict in decision making. In these scenarios, it is sometimes best to appoint just one person to override the state’s policy.

Others who would benefit from appointing a designated funeral agent are: people who may be estranged from their spouse or next-of-kin, or do not know where the living relatives are located, or those who do not have any living relatives.

How to Appoint a Designated Funeral Agent

Designating a funeral agent usually requires you to put in writing the name and contact information of the designated funeral agent. The process and required forms for appointing a designated funeral agent vary from state to state. In some states, like North Carolina, a designated healthcare power of attorney (often part of the Advance Directive) form is required to entrust that person with the right to make decisions about how the funeral will be conducted, as well as the burial, cremation or anatomical donation.

New Jersey, is one of few states that require the designated funeral agent to be listed in the will. Since the will is often not found or read until after the funeral, we recommend that this appointment and form also be made readily available outside the will by providing a copy of it to the designated funeral agent, your lawyer, family, etc. 

For more information on appointing funeral agents by state, find your state on the End-of-Life Guide or visit

For more information on funeral planning and resources to guide you through planning a funeral, visit the I’m Sorry to Hear article library and Resources to download a Funeral Planning Checklist, review the Casket Guide, find Funeral Planning Tips, and access Funeral Consumer Advocacy links.