In 2007, much of America was fixated on the legal drama that developed following Anna Nicole Smith’s tragic death, yet very little has been discussed about how the dispute over her funeral could have been avoided. If Anna had only taken a few simple steps prior to her death, her true wishes regarding her funeral would have been known and most likely, there would not have been a lawsuit over her burial.
Fortunately, in Michigan new laws recently enacted address the same issues over who has authority to control funeral arrangements for a decedent. Michigan law now provides for a list of persons who are presumed to have the “right and power” to make decisions about “funeral arrangements and the handling, disposition or disinterment of a decedent’s body”, including decisions about cremation. Not surprisingly, first among those having priority is the surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, then next in line are children over age 18, then the decedent’s parents have priority. In the absence of surviving parents, then surviving siblings have priority.
If a law dispute should arise over the proposed funeral, Michigan law sets forth the court procedure necessary to resolve any dispute. In particular, the court is required to consider the reasonableness of the proposed funeral, the nature of the relationship between the decedent and the person and whether the person is willing and able to pay for the funeral.
In light of the Anna Nicole Smith saga and current Michigan law regarding who has authority over funeral arrangements, let’s focus on some common sense steps that everyone should take regarding their funeral. While nothing can guarantee that a dispute will not occur over your funeral, a few practical steps can make it very unlikely.
1. Tell Your Family Your Wishes
Let your family hear it directly from you regarding your preferred funeral arrangements.
2. Put It In Writing
Nothing can express your desires better than a letter of instruction in your own handwriting.
3. Prepay Your Funeral and Burial
By prepaying your funeral, you can save your family a lot of stress and anxiety in trying to determine your wishes soon following your death. Don’t be like Anna and leave your family to try to figure it all out. Take action now and spare your family the additional grief. Help your family to remember you – not the mess you left them.