Designate a funeral representative to avoid confusion over last wishes

Tom Scholler | Special to The Michigan Catholic

When we speak of estate planning documents — and every adult should have an estate plan — we include a will, durable powers of attorney for property matters and for health care, and perhaps a revocable trust. Now we should add another document — designation of a funeral representative.

A funeral representative designation law took effect in Michigan in June 2016. You may now designate, in writing, a funeral representative who has the authority to make decisions regarding your wishes for funeral arrangements, burial and cremation. (The Vatican recently issued guidelines on cremation for Catholics to follow (Ad resurgendum cum Christo, Instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).)

Like the law of distribution of your estate if you do not have a will, if you do not designate a funeral representative, the new law has a specific priority list to determine your representative who has the authority to make decisions concerning your funeral and burial arrangements. For example, the first priority is the U.S. law applicable to active members in military service, then the designated funeral representative, followed by the surviving spouse and various levels of family relationships. Accordingly, your designation of funeral representative has a very high priority. The law also specifies who cannot serve as the funeral representative, such as licensed health professionals and funeral establishment employees.

This new law concerning the role of funeral representative could be important if you do not have family members, or as is often the case, they do not live near you. In those situations, without your designation of a funeral representative, there likely could be delays in deciding funeral and burial arrangements until someone can step in to do so. Now you can name someone near you as your funeral representative to avoid delay in carrying out your arrangements.

Your pastor and a funeral director can help you and your designated funeral representative plan your funeral service and other funeral and burial arrangements to be included in your designation document. The law provides particulars of creating the designation document, including requirements for witnessing or notarization, similar to the requirements for a will. It is recommended that your designation of a funeral representative be in a document separate from your other estate planning documents. That way the funeral director can know your wishes for your funeral and burial without having to plow through the other provisions of your will or durable power of attorney for health care.

The designated funeral representative must sign an acknowledgment of his or her duties. In addition, the law provides that your funeral representative is liable for ensuring payment of the funeral and burial costs. It is important, therefore, to communicate with your funeral representative how these costs will be covered, such as with insurance, your estate assets or other resources. Otherwise, he or she may decline to be your funeral representative. You should also designate a successor representative should your first choice be unavailable or unwilling to act.

This new law is another step to give you and your family peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out. Your designation of a funeral representative will reduce, if not eliminate, the tensions that arise when family members cannot agree on these matters.

This article is for your general information and is not intended as legal, tax, or financial advice. In planning for a charitable gift of life insurance you should consult with a reputable insurance advisor, as well as legal, tax or financial professionals. For further information on the Archdiocese of Detroit Endowment Foundation and planned charitable giving techniques, call Tom Scholler in the Department of Development at (313) 596-7408, or e-mail: [email protected].