Does the Executor of an Estate Have Control of a Body?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Emotions run high when a loved one dies and, in the midst of their grief, family members may be less likely to compromise about things, like the decedent’s funeral arrangements. Thus, it may be necessary for someone to exert control over such matters. Typically, the executor named in the decedent’s will has authority to make funeral decisions, unless the decedent made other provisions.

Emotions run high when a loved one dies and, in the midst of their grief, family members may be less likely to compromise about things, like the decedent’s funeral arrangements. Thus, it may be necessary for someone to exert control over such matters. Typically, the executor named in the decedent’s will has authority to make funeral decisions, unless the decedent made other provisions.

Executor Authority

Often, all family members participate in funeral planning when a loved one dies, but it can be difficult for everyone to agree on certain arrangements. If the decedent did not make plans for his funeral before he died, the ultimate responsibility to make these decisions falls on his executor or personal representative. This is the person named in the decedent’s will to administer his estate, which includes paying his debts and distributing his assets to beneficiaries named in his will. If the executor named in the will declines to serve as representative, the probate court will appoint an alternate instead.

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Funeral Expenses

An executor does not necessarily take on financial responsibility for the decedent’s funeral arrangements. When he acts in his capacity as executor, he is making financial decisions for the decedent’s estate, and the decedent’s funeral arrangements become a debt of the estate. Thus, the executor’s decision may be guided in part by cost and what he feels the estate can afford. For example, if the executor estimates the decedent’s estate only has a few thousand dollars in assets, he may have to make less expensive arrangements than he would otherwise prefer. Executors are not required to pay the decedent’s funeral expenses out of their personal funds.

Designated Agents

Many states allow their residents to designate an agent whose only responsibility is to control the disposition of their remains. This can be the same person as the executor. This type of designation is particularly useful if someone wants to name one person as executor, to manage the financial aspects of the death, but wants another person to handle the funeral arrangements. For example, a family friend could be named as executor and a close sibling could be designated as the agent to handle the funeral arrangements. Some states, like Idaho, permit their residents to include such agent designations in their health care powers of attorney.

Funeral Wishes

Many states also allow their residents to detail burial wishes in their designated agent documents or personal wills. These details are often binding and cannot be changed by relatives, executor or designated agent. For example, Connecticut law allows residents to create their own legally binding declaration, with or without appointing an agent to carry out those directions. Funeral directions can be very detailed, for example, by including a list of songs to be played at the funeral service, or more general, such as whether the decedent wishes to be cremated.

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What Is the Executor's Responsibility in Regards to Burial Expenses?

References

Related articles

How to Be the Executor of a Deceased Estate

When a person dies, someone must take on the responsibility of managing the decedent’s estate through the probate process. Though state probate laws vary, this personal representative, usually called the executor if the decedent left a will, must take charge of the decedent’s assets, pay his final debts and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs. Before the personal representative has any authority to act, he must be appointed by the probate court.

Executor of a Will and Funeral Expenses

People often include burial instructions in their wills or leave separate instructions with their executor regarding their wishes for funeral arrangements. This cuts down on guesswork at an emotionally difficult time, ensuring loved ones and the will’s executor don’t have to wonder what the decedent might have wanted. Despite such preparation, there may still be an issue with how to pay for the funeral.

Probating a Will & Bills

When an individual dies, the probate court in his county takes possession of his estate. The will's executor then works with the probate court to distribute the estate according to the deceased's wishes and state law. Before friends and family members receive their inheritance, the executor must use proceeds from the estate to pay off any outstanding debts the deceased left behind. Any assets left over belong to the deceased's loved ones and any other beneficiaries named in the will.

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