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Who has the legal right to make decisions about your funeral?

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Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition

In more than half the states, there is a statutory obligation for survivors to honor the written wishes of the deceased, to follow your personal preference. In a few states, your wishes may be over-turned in the case of cremation, however. Even if there is no personal preference law in your state (blank entry below), it is better to have your wishes in writing than not at all. Courts routinely support all but the most outrageous wishes.

Perhaps the most useful laws are those permitting you to name a designated agent for body disposition. If you are estranged from next-of-kin or were never married to your significant other, the designated agent law allows you to name someone other than a legal spouse or relative to carry out your wishes. Or perhaps one of your children is a little more inclined to follow your wishes than the others.

Sometimes circumstances change, and it seems appropriate to change funeral plans, too. One woman’s father lived so long that none of his friends were left to come to a viewing. A public viewing for one person–just for her–didn’t make sense. Or perhaps you planned on body donation to a medical school in Idaho but die while on a trip to New York. Should your estate pay for shipping your body back to Idaho, or would you trust your agent to make appropriate alternative arrangements?

IMPORTANT — Your designated agent is not obligated to carry your wishes out if they’re highly impractical, illegal, or financially burdensome. It’s very important for you and your agent to understand how much your wishes will cost, and to plan accordingly. You should not expect your designated agent to pay for a costly funeral if you don’t set money aside for that expense.

Alabama – In 2011 the state adopted a designated agent law which allows you to name a legal representative of your choice to carry out funeral wishes. Click here to download a form.

Alaska – There is no law giving citizens the right to expect their funeral wishes to be honored, but you may fill out an advance health care directive, click here to download.

Arizona – Yes, Designated Agent and Personal Preference Law

The state  has a personal preference law in Arizona Statute Title 32-1365.01 that gives you the right to authorize your own cremation or disposition in writing. The law clearly states that no one else’s consent – not your spouse’s, not your childrens’ – is required. It seems likely lawmakers weren’t aware of this conflict, which is unfortunate, since it may prove confusing for families and for funeral directors.

Arizona also allows citizens to designate an agent to have the authority to make funeral and burial arrangements within the form for a durable healthcare power of attorney. You can find this right in statute 36-3221. But other sections of the law contain confusing and conflicting language that makes it unclear whether the person you designate to carry out your wishes has the highest authority, or whether a surviving spouse does:

36-831. Burial duties; notification requirements; failure to perform duty; definitions

A. Except as provided pursuant to subsection H of this section, the duty of burying the body of or providing other funeral and disposition arrangements for a dead person devolves in the following order:

1. If the dead person was married, on the surviving spouse. Unless:

(a) The dead person was legally separated from the person’s spouse.
(b) A petition for divorce or for legal separation from the dead person’s spouse was filed before the person’s death and remains pending at the time of death.
2. The person who is designated as having power of attorney for the decedent in the decedent’s most recent durable power of attorney.
This seems to conflict with rights that already exist in Arizona law.

So What Should You Do?
Your right to authorize your own body disposition still exists in state law. We’re fairly sure the courts would uphold a written document declaring your wishes, including a durable healthcare power of attorney that describes your wishes and names an agent to carry them out, even if that person is not your spouse. Click here to download the form.

Arkansas — Arkansas enacted a law in 2009 that allows you to specify your funeral wishes in advance. The law also allows you to designate an agent to carry them out (or you may leave those decisions up to your designated agent). Click here to download a declaration form that complies with Arkansas law.

California –Yes, personal preference law, found in California Health and Safety Code 7100.1 California also has a designated agent law found in CHSC 7100. You may click here for California’s Designated Agent form.

Colorado— Colorado has a personal preference and a designated agent law. Title 15-19-104 of the Colorado Statutes gives a decedent the right to make his own legally binding preferences known in a written document. Here’s a form you can download.

Connecticut— As of October 1, 2005, Connecticut citizens have the right to declare their own wishes for the disposition of their body. This declaration will be legally binding. In addition, citizens may appoint an agent to carry out those directions.You can download the form by clicking here. 

DC — Residents have the right to designate an agent to make decisions about the disposition of the the body. Residents may also make written directions for the disposition of their body that supersede any other party’s wishes. These rights can be found in the DC Code, Division 1, Subsection 3-413 at the DC government’s website or you can click here to download the form.

Delaware – There is a combined personal preference and designated agent law. Find it in Title 12, Chapter 2, subsections 264 and 265 of the Delaware Code. You may click here to download a designated agent form.

Florida –Yes, personal preference law You may download a Living Will form here or an Advance Directive form. Click on either to download.

Georgia — Georgia law allows you to appoint an agent to direct the disposition of your remains within the state’s Durable Health Care Power of Attorney form. See Georgia Code Title 31, Chapter 36 . Click on Georgia’s Advance Directive Form to download a copy.

Hawaii—In 2013 the state adopted a combined personal preference/designated agent law. Here is a form you can use.

Idaho — Idaho law allows you to write up a document naming a person to carry out your funeral wishes, so long as the document is “acknowledged in the same manner as required for instruments conveying real property. . .” A far easier route, however, is to take another option allowed by law: the person you name as your agent in a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare has the authority to make your disposition arrangements unless you specifically deny your agent that right within the document. This right is found in Title 54, Chapter 11, section 42 (54-1142). You may also download a Power of Attorney and Living Will form by clicking here.

Illinois — As of January 1, 2006, Illinois citizens can declare their wishes for disposition in a written document that is legally binding. They may also designate an agent to carry them out, or to make any decisions if no specific instructions are left. Click here for the form. The law allowing this is found under in chapter 755 of Illinois Statutes, Estates, Disposition of Remains Act. Click here and scroll down to look it up.

Indiana — As of July 2009, you may fill out a Funeral Planning Declaration that allows you to specify your wishes and to appoint an agent who has the legal authority to carry them out. You may also click here to download a power of attorney/health care proxy form.

If you do not fill out a Funeral Planning Declaration, your health care power of attorney named in an advance medical directive has the right to “make plans for the disposition of the principal’s body.” NOTE – a person named in your Funeral Planning Declaration has legal priority over an agent named in your durable power of attorney for health care when it comes to the disposition of your dead body.

Iowa –SF 473 became effective July 1, 2008. It gives you the right to name an agent to make all arrangements for the disposition of your body. NOTE – you MUST attach the form to a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney for it to be effective. Download the form here.

Kansas— Kansas has a designated agent law which can be found in Statute number 65-1734. To find it, to the Kansas Legislature Web site which allows you to look up laws by statute number. You may also click here for a link to download an advance directive.

Kentucky —In 2016 Kentucky adopted a designated agent law in Chapter 367 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes. Click here to download the form.

Louisiana –Wishes of the deceased will prevail if written and notarized. You may click here to download the advance directive form.

Maine –You may designate an agent for body disposition as well as your wishes. Click here for that form. You can find this right in Title 22, §2843-A, no. 2 of the Maine Statutes.

Maryland – The state’s Advance Directives forms now include the option to name an agent to carry out your funeral wishes. You can download the form (and a rather lengthy instruction booklet) here.

Massachusetts — How too bad that Massachusetts citizens can only ensure their wishes are carried out by paying a funeral director before they’ve died. The Massachussetts regulation number CMR 239, 3:09 states that if a pre-need (prepaid) contract is in force, then the funeral director shall obey it. Otherwise, the right to control the disposition of your body devolves along the usual next-of-kin line, whether you like it or not. We do have an Advance Directive form on hand by clicking here.

Michigan –You may designate your wishes in your will, but your next of kin may override them. If you do make a will, be sure everyone knows where the will is and what it says. Often the will isn’t read until after the body is buried. Click here to download Michigan’s Designated Agent form.

Minnesota –The state has a personal preference and designated agent law. Click here to download that form. Statute number 149A.80 allows you to put your disposition wishes in writing, and/or to appoint an agent to carry these out or make decisions for you. You may also use an advance medical directive for this purpose.

Mississippi — As of July 1, 2004, your prepaid funeral contract is legally binding and cannot be overridden by your next of kin. It’s too bad the only way to secure your right to decide what happens to your body is to pay the funeral director ahead of time. Mississippi has the worst consumer protection laws in the country regarding prepaid funerals. Click here for the Advance Directive Form.

Missouri — Yes, Designated Agent law. Chapter 194, Death – Disposition of Dead Bodies, Section 194.119, of the Missouri Revised Statutes, states that the next-of-kin has the “right of sepulcher” — the right to custody and control of the dead body. What’s interesting is that in Missouri, you can designate anyone you want to be your next-of-kin for the purposes of the disposition of your body. Click here to download a form.The easiest way to do this is to name a person to carry out your funeral within your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

Montana — The state adopted a designated agent law in 2009. Download the form here.

Nebraska –Written or oral wishes of the deceased regarding disposition must be honored. In 2003, Nebraska also added a designated agent provision click here to download the form.

Nevada — Yes, designated agent law. New laws in Nevada as of 2003 give citizens the right to designate an agent for burial or cremation. See Chapter 451 of the Nevada Revised Statutes for details. Click here to download the form.

New Hampshire — Yes, there is a designated agent law (Click here to download). From the New Hampshire Statutes:

290:17 Custody and Control Generally. – The custody and control of the remains of deceased residents of this state are governed by the following provisions:

I. If the subject has designated a person to have custody and control in a written and signed document, custody and control belong to that person. The person designated by the subject shall be entitled to no compensation or reimbursement of expenses related to the custody and control of the subject’s body.

II. If the subject has not left a written signed document designating a person to have custody and control, or if the person designated by the subject refuses custody and control, custody and control belong to the next of kin.

III. If the next of kin is 2 or more persons with the same relationship to the subject, the majority of the next of kin have custody and control. If the next of kin cannot, by majority vote, make a decision regarding the subject’s remains, the court shall make the decision upon petition under RSA 290:19, IV.

New Mexico — You may authorize your own cremation prior to death under statute 24-12A-1. In addition, you may appoint a legal agent to carry out your funeral wishes (click here for the form) within your will under statute 45-3-701 B. Click here to download a cremation authorization form that includes tips on using your will to appoint an agent.

New Jersey — New Jersey adopted a Designated Agent law in 2004. Go to the NJ Legislature page and see Title 45:27-22 to see the statute conferring this right. Once at the legislature page, look at the left-hand menu and scroll down until you see “Laws and Constitutions.” Just underneath that, click the link labeled “statutes,” then scroll through the numbered titles to find 45:27-22. Beware – you must make your wishes known in a will, so make that will available to your family and friends, not locked away in a safe deposit box. Click here for a Designated Agent & Living Will form.

 

New York— Section 4201 of the Public Health Law allows a person to designate an agent to dispose of his remains. The law includes a statutory form that may be used. See the Legislature’s web site. We have a designated agent form you may download, click here.

North Carolina –An irrevocable pre-need arrangement may not be altered. Since 2007, you can use your Health Care Power of Attorney form to give that person the right to make decisions about your funeral, cremation, burial, or anatomical donation too. Download your NC Health Care Power of Attorney here.

North Dakota — We can find no laws giving citizens the right to direct the disposition of their bodies, or the right to designate an agent to do so for them. Title 23-06-03 states, “1. The duty of burying the body of a deceased individual devolves upon the surviving husband or wife if the deceased was married or, if the deceased was not married but left kindred, upon one or more individuals in the same degree, of adult age, nearest of kin to the deceased and possessed of sufficient means to defray the necessary expenses.

North Dakota citizens might want to contact their representatives to ask them to bring the state’s body disposition laws into the 21st century and up to par with the majority of other states.

Oklahoma — There is a combined personal preference and designated agent law. Click here to download a form. The law can be found in §21-1151:

Disposal of one’s own body.
A.  Any person has the right to direct the manner in which his or her body shall be disposed of after death, and to direct the manner in which any part of his or her body which becomes separated therefrom during his or her lifetime shall be disposed of.  The provisions of this article do not apply where such person has given directions for the disposal of his or her body or any part thereof inconsistent with these provisions.

B.  A person may assign the right to direct the manner in which his or her body shall be disposed of after death by executing a sworn affidavit stating the assignment of the right and the name of the person or persons to whom the right has been assigned.

C.  Any person who knowingly fails to follow the directions as to the manner in which the body of a person shall be disposed of pursuant to subsection A or B of this section, upon conviction thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00).

Ohio — Effective October 12, 2006, Ohio citizens may designate anyone they wish to make funeral, cremation, or anatomical donations of their bodies after death. This new right can be found in 2108.70 of the Ohio Code. Click here to download a copy of an Ohio Designated Agent Form.

Oregon — Yes, there is both a personal preference and a designated agent law. You may find the statutory form to use to direct your disposition, and to appoint an agent to do so, under Oregon Revised Statutes, 97.130, by clicking here for the form.

Pennsylvania — Yes, designated agent law (click here to download the form). Pennsylvania Statute, Title 20, Chapter 3, Subsection 305, gives citizens the right to make a “statement of contrary intent” that will override the next-of-kin’s usual authority and let the citizen designate whom he wants to control the disposition of his body. Click here to search the Pennsylvania statutes.

Rhode Island — Rhode Island has a designated agent law (click here to download). Look up section 5-33.2-24 of the statutes.

South Carolina –Yes, personal preference law. A person may authorize his/her own cremation in a Cremation Authorization Form — see South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 32-8-315 at the State Legislature Web site. Section 32-8-320 allows you to name any person you like (it does not have to be your next of kin) to carry out your wishes for cremation. You must do so in a ” will or other verified and attested document.” OUR ADVICE — Do NOT use a will to assign this power to someone. Why? Because the will usually isn’t read until after your body is disposed of. Instead, draw up a short, dated document stating that you give such-and-such person the sole right to make arrangements for your disposition, as allowed by SC Code 32-8-30. Date the document, and have it notarized. Make sure your survivors have a copy. Click here to download a Power of Attorney form.

South Dakota –Yes, personal preference law, found in Title 34, Chapter 26, Section 1 of the South Dakota statutes. Click here to download a free form on which you can describe your funeral wishes and make them legally binding.

Tennessee — Tennessee citizens can give the right to make disposition arrangements to the person named as their agent in a durable health care power of attorney. This right is outlined in the Tennessee Code, Title 34, Chapter 6, Part 2. The form is available by clicking here.

Texas –There is a statutory duty to honor the wishes of the deceased. You may also name an agent to control disposition of remains. To view Texas Health and Safety Code 711.02, which contains a form to appoint an agent, click here to download.

Utah –A designated agent may carry out the wishes of the deceased. A person may direct his/her own (burial or cremation) in an approved document by clicking here.

Vermont — Effective September 1, 2005, Vermont has added the right to specify the disposition of one’s own body, and the right to designate an agent to make decisions about bodily disposition, to the state advance medical directives law. What a sensible approach! See Title 18, Part 231 of the Vermont Statutes. You can download a Vermont Advance Directive by clicking here.

Virginia — Yes, a person may designate an agent to arrange for the disposition of his/her body. See § 54.1-2825. There is a statutory duty to comply with the written wishes of the deceased. Click here to download the form.

Washington –There is a statutory duty to comply with the written wishes of the deceased. A preneed agreement may not be substantially altered by survivors. You can find the right to direct your own disposition in the Revised Code of Washington, 68.50.160. It states:

Right to Control Disposition of Remains
(1) A person has the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or postdeath consent of another person. A valid written document expressing the decedent’s wishes regarding the place or method of disposition of his or her remains, signed by the decedent in the presence of a witness, is sufficient legal authorization for the procedures to be accomplished.

Also, Washington passed a designated agent law through House Bill 1564 in February, 2011. You may now give another person the legal right to make your funeral arrangements. You must do so in a written document that you sign, and that is signed by at least one witness (not the person to whom you’re giving authority). Click here to download the form.

West Virginia — Statute 16-30-4 allows you express your funeral wishes in an advance medical directive, and/or to appoint a person to carry these out for you. Click here for the form.

Wisconsin — Assembly Bill 305 was signed by the Governor March 5, 2008, giving citizens the right to designate an agent to carry out their funeral wishes. Here is a form you can download by clicking here. 

Wyoming — There is a designated agent law, found in click here to find statute Title 2, Chapter 17, 2-17-10.

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