Who controls the funeral arrangements for a loved one?

The death of a loved one is a traumatic and disorienting experience. Complicating matters is determining who is legally able to execute the wishes of the deceased in regard to funeral and burial plans.

So while it is a time to focus on family and friends and honor the passing of your loved one, it’s also important to know New Jersey laws determining who is empowered to make decisions about arrangements, including control of the funeral and disposition of remains.

Avoid confusion: Designate an executor or funeral agent

It’s a common misconception that someone who has power of attorney has legal rights to handle funeral arrangements. A power of attorney document authorizes someone to act on behalf of the grantor while they are alive, but it becomes invalid once the grantor passes away.

Therefore it’s critical that a person who wants their power of attorney to handle their funeral arrangements also name that person their executor or funeral agent, says Kelly Carey, who oversees operations at Codey & Mackey Funeral Home in Boonton and Codey Funeral Home in Caldwell. A funeral agent is a person specifically designated in your will or acknowledged and notarized on a state-approved document to handle your funeral arrangements. 

Kelly says she has run into this problem several times and hopes sharing this information will help families during an already stressful period. “The funeral home needs to be authorized to perform services, and it’s important families understand the legal requirements to avoid confusion,” Kelly says. “We want to make sure the process is as smooth as possible, and we’re able to provide the families with the support they need during an emotionally difficult time.”

Families can access the form for Consent for Services and assign an authorized funeral agent through the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs which follows state guidelines as defined by N.J.S.A. 45:27-22. Kelly advises that anyone with legal questions should always consult an estate attorney.

If there is no designated executor or funeral agent, control over the funeral is assigned to the next of kin in a specific order, starting with the spouse, civil union partner or registered domestic partner; the biological and legally adopted children of the decedent; then the parents or siblings of the deceased if necessary. Beyond that it would be a case-by-case situation. Step-children are not included, which can often lead to confusion. 

The best remedy is to settle any questions about who will control the funeral and disposition of remains as early as possible and before preparing an individual’s will. 

For more information on legal control of funerals and disposition of remains, or any other aspect of funeral planning, contact us at Codey & Mackey Funeral Home at (973) 334-5252. It is our privilege to serve you.