I want (Blank) to be in charge of my funeral plans! 

Contributed by Daniel Bitecola III of Halpin-Bitecola Brookdale Funeral Home

Often we hear from individuals, I want ___ to be in charge of my funeral.  Thankfully, this conversation happens most often during the pre-planning process.  Unfortunately, if someone who you wanted to be in control of your arrangements finds out during the final arrangement they do not have the legal authority to do so, this makes the process difficult or most times not possible.  An example would be “____ wanted me to handle his /her services, made me power of attorney, and his/her wish was to be cremated”.  While anyone could be asked by a family member or friend to control their last wishes, legally they may not have the right to do so. 

One of the first steps in the arrangement process is establishing who has the right to control.  When we establish this, the process can begin.  So, if we go back to the example above, the first questions would be is he/she married, or does he/she have children?  If no, the questions continue to until we find who the closest blood relative is.  However, if the answer is yes to any of the questions, and the person making arrangements is not one of these people, they may not have the right of control.  Some situations may even require a court order to rectify.   Some examples would be if your parent dies and you have an estranged sibling, the decedent out lived all of their relatives, or their next of kin is not mentally competent.  In almost all of these cases the burial/cremation process will be delayed for several days, weeks, or months.

One way to avoid this process is to appoint a funeral agent in a will or codicil.  No other means of appointment are acceptable for this. The funeral agent and executor can be the same, or different people, but the executor is not automatically the funeral agent.  The funeral agent will have the right of disposition and bypass a spouse, child/children, or any legal relative if the funeral agent is appointed correctly. The language needs to be specific and you will need to consult a lawyer to complete the process. 

So who can be a funeral agent?  The answer is anyone can be.  A lot of thought should be given as to who you would like to appoint.  In many cases a person selects a specific family member, lawyer, clergy member, or a close friend. One exception is that the funeral director of record should not be the funeral agent.  This can be a serious conflict of interest.  If a funeral director was appointed and they did not have knowledge of it, they should immediately waive their rights to the alternate representative.

Do I need a funeral agent?  Only you can answer that question and should seek legal advice before proceeding.  If you feel you do, contact an attorney and a funeral home for more guidance on how to proceed.

Daniel Bitecola III is a licensed funeral director, a certified pre-planning consultant, and owner of Halpin-Bitecola Brookdale Funeral Home.  For questions he can be reached at 973-338-5900, DBitecolaiii@BrookdaleFH.com, or www.BrookdaleFH.com.