Financial experts maintain that you should begin estate planning the moment you start earning a living as an adult. Along with estate planning, you should also be proactive and make explicit decisions regarding your funeral and the disposition of your remains when you die. As you contemplate decisions relating to your funeral and the disposition of your remains, you may understandably wonder who has the legal authority to make such decisions for you.

Funeral and Disposition Decisions Rest With You

If you are an adult of sound mind you have the legal ability to make decisions regarding your funeral and the disposition of your remains. The ideal course is for you to put your funeral and disposition decisions in writing. You can include these directives in your last will and testament or in a separate document. In either case, you need to make sure that at least one individual you trust has access to the document that contains instructions on your funeral and disposition.

California is one of about half of the states in the United States that permit you the ability to designate an agent through a written instrument charged with carrying out your funeral and remains disposition decisions. This individual is charged with the task of seeing that your funeral and related directives and desires are carried out. As will be discussed in a moment, if you do not explicitly delineate your desires, you can appoint an individual who will undertake this task for you when you die.

Designated Agent to Carry out Desires Regarding Your Funeral and Burial

As was just noted, California law permits you the ability to execute a written instrument designated a specific person to carry out your funeral and dispositional desires. You can restrict this agent to specifically carrying out your desires. You also have the ability to provide your designated agent with broader authority.

If you so desire, you can provide your agent with the authority to make alterations to your established directives. There can be situations in which allowing this type of flexibility is wise.

For example, perhaps you initially set forth that your funeral is to be held in a specific church or in a church of a specific faith. Somewhere along the way, you switch your religious preferences in some manner but never got around to altering your written directives. Your agent would have a far easier go of it arranging for your funeral to be at a location that suits your true desires if authority for making alterations is enumerated in the written instrument itself.

You can also elect to designate a person in your last will and testament to make decisions regarding your funeral and the disposition of your remains. Oftentimes, the person with this authority is the executor named in the will itself. Because a funeral typically occurs very soon after death, it is vital that the person designated to make final decisions regarding services and disposition have ready access to your last will and testament. 

Family Member to Carry out Desires Regarding Your Funeral and Burial

There’s something of a default mode if you don’t do any specific funeral and disposition planning yourself – which ends up being the case for many people. That default position is that your next of kin will have the ability to make these decisions for you.

As much as we would like to think our families have a good idea of what we would like in the way of a funeral and disposition, that is not always the case. Moreover, even if a family knows what one of their members wants in the way of a funeral, there is no guarantee whatsoever that they will follow the course.

Thus, despite your family being a default course if you don’t specify what you want to be done, you should not end up in the position of not enumerating your funeral and associated desires. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a family member being the person you designate to oversee your funeral and associated arrangements. However, the advisable course is to put that authority in writing in one of the ways set forth a moment ago. In addition, you should delineate specifically what your family member can and cannot do when it comes to your funeral and the final disposition of your remains.

A final thought. While you sincerely might not care what happens in the way of your funeral and burial, keep in mind that you likely have family and friends who will want to come together and honor you and memorialize your life. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about your final arrangements, consider those people who are in your life and how a memorial of some sort will be helpful to them after you pass on.