Who Decides on the Burial of a Decedent?

Many of us have clear wishes on whether we want to be buried or cremated, and some of us have very clear ideas of what kind of funeral we want or where we want our ashes scattered. But from a legal perspective, who gets to decide?

Surprisingly, not you. A spouse has authority to direct the type of funeral, where the decedent will be buried, whether organs will be donated, and more. Absent a spouse, the decedent’s “next of kin” have control. This means the children, and if there are no children, then the parents, and if there are no parents, then the siblings.

In order to have the type of funeral or cremation you want, or if you want to donate your body to science, you need to be sure your family knows your wishes. If you think that there will be arguments, put your instructions in writing. A frequent example is disagreements between kids and the decedent’s second spouse. Actually, written instructions are a good idea even if you are not concerned about disagreements.

An even more secure way to remain in charge of your final disposition is to make pre-arrangements yourself with a funeral home. Share the prepaid contract with your family so they know exactly who to call when you pass away, and the service and burial or cremation will be just what you requested. I wrote a post on prepaid funerals earlier.