Many people are shocked to find out that they alone are unable to determine what will happen with their remains upon their death. You can tell your family you want to be cremated or buried, preplan the funeral, and even pay for it - but Michigan was one of a handful of states that left actual legal decision making to your next of kin after you die. But a new law enacted this year hopes to change this.
These laws are rooted in the belief that your remains become personal property upon death. Who owns and controls that property is your next of kin. Now that is rarely a problem for most families. If you are survived by a spouse, then they decide. If you have 3 children but no spouse, then likewise, they decide. But families these days can be very non-traditional. And this has created a lot of conflict and uncertainty in some families.
In 25 years practicing estate law, we have had several disputes involving funeral arrangements. Consider a second marriage where the child of a deceased parent might want their father buried next to their mother - but the new spouse wants him buried somewhere else. Or a family that disagrees about anything from burial vs. cremation, to whether to have a viewing.
Until this new law, the old defined 'next-of-kin' rules where creating headaches for funeral homes. For example, if someone was not survived by a spouse - but had 3 children, and 2 wanted burial and the 3rd wanted cremation - the funeral home was in a quandary. Some funerals allowed majority rule - but others required unanimous consent, particular for cremations. What if a child is estranged form the family? Again, more problems.
The law Michigan adopted, with the assistance and input of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, now allows you to designate 1 person to make all funeral arrangements. That designation must be in a signed and witnessed writing. It could also be added to a power of attorney document. Under this law - your designated Funeral Representative alone can make all decisions regarding the disposition and storage of your remains.
Now the law isn't perfect. I can see situations where someone designates a person to handle their funeral arrangements - but someone else is in charge of the money, and disagrees with the choices being made. The law also doesn't address a situation where the representative makes decisions that conflict with what the person who died had indicated they had wanted. But it is a big step forward.
Our office has created a new Funeral Representative Designation form, and they are available at no cost if you call the office or email us, and are an existing client.