Q: What happens if a family can't agree about funeral arrangements for a parent? Who gets final say?
A: Even families that are close can disagree on final arrangements for mom or dad. People often have strong views about what should or shouldn't be done when planning a funeral.
Fortunately, disagreements regarding a loved one's final arrangements rarely move past a lively conversation. Usually in the end, compromise is reached and the family can move onto the grieving.
However, there are situations where compromise can't be reached and then things get ugly. Fortunately, I've never been involved in litigation regarding final arrangements, but things that I've read suggest things can pretty personal.
If you are regular reader, you know one of my estate planning pearls of wisdom is it's easier to avoid a problem than to solve it later. That's why I'm such a big proponent of planning. If you plan around a problem, chances are your family won't have to face it later.
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A few years ago, Indiana authorized the use of Funeral Planning Declarations. When a person executes a FPD, they appoint a designee to carry out and, when necessary, make final arrangements. The principal leaves a set of instructions and preferences. For example, the principal can designate a funeral home that should be used and the cemetery where they want to be interred. The principal can indicate what type of service they want and even the minister or priest they would like to have conduct the service. Once the principal has made decisions about the type of arrangements, the designee has the legal authority to see that they are carried out.
If you don't have a FPD, check your Power of Attorney or possibly your health care representative appointment to see if there is any language regarding final arrangements or if it references all powers granted to an Attorney-in-Fact in the Indiana Code. The power to dispose of remains is one of the only powers granted in a POA that survives the death of the principal.
If you don't have an FPD or a POA, then you are going to need to rely on the Indiana Code. The Code provides a list of individuals who can make final arrangements by their priority. The Code provides the following individuals in order of priority: Designee under a FDP, authorized attorney-in-fact or health care designee, surviving spouse, surviving children (by majority), surviving parents, surviving siblings (by majority); and next of kin.
The list provided by the Code is better than nothing, but not much better. In my opinion, it's better to legally designate someone to make final arrangements under the terms of a FPD or POA. But then again, I'm a planner.