It has been become more popular in recent years to pre-plan, or even to pre-pay for, your funeral. But if the arrangements include cremation of your body, you have no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out.
Final Wishes May Be Out of Your Hands
Michigan is one of about 5 states that does not allow you to lock in your disposition decisions before death and does not allow you to appoint someone before death to do so. According to Michigan law, it is the next of kin, not the deceased, that has the right to make “decisions about funeral arrangements and the handling, disposition or disinterment of a decedent’s body, including, but not limited to, decisions about cremation, and the right to possess cremated remains of the decedent.” The law gives a priority list of who get to make the decision: the spouse, a child (or a majority of the children), the closest blood relatives. If a majority cannot agree, any individual may file a petition for instructions from a Probate Court.
Members of the military are covered by a federal law that allows them to designate who can make their funeral arrangements. This federal law takes precedence over the Michigan law.
So, if you are not in the armed forces, the best way to ensure that you remain in control of all your final arrangements is to include your funeral and disposition plans in your estate planning documents. That way, if a Court has to get involved to settle a dispute between family members, at least your preferences are stated in writing. The alternative, depending upon how strongly you feel about it, may be to state in your estate plan that anyone who does not follow your final arrangements will not inherit anything from your estate.
The Very Latest and What's Next
Last week, I attended Michigan's annual Probate & Estate Planning Institute for 3 days to learn some new strategies. In 2012, Michigan completely revised its law about Revocable Trusts, the Michigan Legislature enacted a flurry of new laws in the last two weeks of the session and Congress increased the estate tax exemption to $5.25 million. So, there was a lot to catch up on. Stay tuned as I'll share the new in upcoming e-blasts.