A loved one passes away in Ohio. You moved out of the state years ago, so there is a flurry of activity as you try to make plans to come home and you attempt to figure out what role you have along with the other heirs. Perhaps it is you and your siblings trying to address the passing of a parent, for instance.
Very quickly, you realize that the first logical step is to plan for the funeral. You need to make a lot of logistical and financial decisions, and you can't really put this off. But that gets you wondering about the process, and you start asking some important questions:
- What did your parent want the funeral to look like?
- How can you address those wishes?
- What is best for other family members who live out of town or out of the state?
- Who actually has the legal authority to make these decisions?
The answers are unique in every case, but let's start breaking it down by examining who may have the power to make these choices on your parent's behalf.
The estate plan
First of all, your parent may already have done a lot of this. When drafting an estate plan, many people will buy a cemetery lot, pick a funeral home and set aside money for all of the other expenses. They may even add a note about exactly how they want things to take place -- what songs to sing, who needs to speak, when it should happen -- especially if they are very religious.
An advance directive
If they did not directly make the plans on their own, they may have designated a person to do so on their behalf. It could be as simple as putting the directions into their will. It could involve something like a power of attorney or an advance directive. They may not have given you directions, but they still may have told you exactly who gets to make those crucial choices.
In the absence of any directions at all from your parent, the closest relative gets to make these decisions. If your parent's spouse is still alive, they have the authority. If not, the law defers to the next blood relative. That is usually a child.
You and your siblings need to decide who will do this among yourself. However, remember that many funeral homes use contractual agreements. These can change things so that one person has exclusive control. For instance, if your siblings pick you and you sign the contract, even if they do not approve of the choices you make, the funeral home will follow your directions, not theirs.
This is an emotional time, but it is important to pause and consider these crucial legal questions. They help you know exactly what steps to take moving forward.