Funeral and Burial Planning and Common Disputes

When a loved one passes away, family and friends feel stricken with grief and loss. During this difficult time, figuring out how to handle the deceased’s estate and carry out their wishes can be an overwhelming burden. One of the smartest things you can do for your family is to make burial and funeral arrangements in advance. When an individual passes away without leaving behind a plan expressing their wishes, surviving family members may bicker, stymieing progress.

Planning ahead while you are still living ensures not only that your wishes will be carried out to your satisfaction, but it also will limit problems for your family after you pass on. Planning for burial and funeral arrangements means anything from picking an individual who will carry out your wishes, deciding whether you want a ceremony or not and how that will be carried out, choosing burial or cremation, and deciding how funeral and burial expenses will be paid.

Michigan Default Rules and Appointing a Representative

Michigan has no law allowing an individual to designate another person to carry out funeral and burial wishes. However, you should still choose someone and document your wishes clearly in writing. Family members will be more likely to honor your wishes, and if there is any dispute, a court will be more likely to honor your wishes as well. Furthermore, keep in mind that if one wants to be cremated, then all of the closest next of kin have to agree or the cremation will not occur.

If you do not plan ahead at all, however, the state will apply the default rules to choose a representative. State default rules choose a decision maker as follows:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Adult children
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Next of kin (next closest degree of consanguinity)
  • Personal representative of deceased’s estate
  • Personal guardian
  • Special personal representative
  • Designated public official

Upon first glance, this default order seems sensible enough. But what if your children do not get along? When there is more than one member to a class, majority rules. If there is no majority, then they would likely go to court to sort out their differences. Or what if you never got along with your siblings, and you would have much preferred that your cousin make decisions for your funeral and burial? Anything could happen between now and the date of your passing. People you thought would be around to take care of your final wishes might predecease you. To avoid these problems, it is best if set out an explicit plan in advance.

Documentation and Expense Planning

Before creating a plan, find an experienced attorney to draft your final wishes properly. Some people think they can designate a person to handle funeral and burial matters within a will. However, the funeral and burial or cremation typically happens before a court reviews the will. This means your wishes may not get carried out.

A better approach is to draft a separate document that only deals with your preferences surrounding funeral and burial arrangements.You should decide whether you would like to be buried in a casket or cremated. Decide what will happen to your ashes. Choose a casket and where you would like to be buried. Make decisions about what kind of funeral ceremony, if any, you would like to have. Budget the expenses so your wishes can be fulfilled regarding the remainder of your estate.

Another important issue you should arrange for is how the funeral and burial expenses will be paid. There are two main ways you can do this. You could:

  • Payment Up Front: The benefit of paying in advance is that you have done some of the work that your family would otherwise have to sort out and handle. The risk of doing this is that the funds spent may not be properly handled. Be cautious, and choose trustworthy funeral and burial service vendor to avoid scams and legal headaches.
  • Putting Away Specific Funds for Funeral and Burial Expenses: When choosing this option, set aside funds in a straight-forward, interest-earning bank account. Name a beneficiary who can access this account and carry out your wishes. Clearly communicate to your beneficiary the purpose of the funds and exactly what should be done with it.

If you or a loved one needs help arranging for funeral and burial or cremation, contact our Michigan elder law and probate law firm at (248) 213-9514 or fill out our online form. Our dedicated elder law and probate attorneys at BRMM will evaluate your circumstances and work with you to carefully document a personally tailored plan.

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