Does Beneficiary Have to Pay Funeral Costs?

By Teo Spengler

When a person dies, his body must be disposed of according to state law. Generally, states require that the remains of a deceased person are either buried or cremated. State laws vary about who bears primary responsibility for funeral costs, but generally the estate of the deceased pays the debt out of estate funds.

Estate in Probate

No matter how carefully a person drafts her will to specify which beneficiaries get what assets, the terms of the document are not self-activating. Most wills must go through the court-supervised probate process where assets are collected and debts paid before property can be distributed to beneficiaries. One such debt involves funeral expenses.

Paying Debts

The person shepherding the will through probate is called the executor. The executor must pay estate debts with estate assets before he distributes property to the beneficiaries of the will. In California, for example, the statutes set out the order in which estate expenses must be paid and funeral expenses are third, just after estate administration costs and secured debts. While a beneficiary does not pay estate debts directly, the assets of the estate that can be distributed under the will are reduced by every estate bill the executor pays.

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Estate Settlement & Division of Property From a Will

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Next of Kin Rights vs. Executor of the Will

An executor has many responsibilities, and most of those relate to the next of kin of the decedent. The closest living relatives of the decedent often have the most to inherit from a decedent’s estate and as a result can be greatly affected by how the executor carries out his duties. However, the obligations of the executor to the next of kin must be balanced against the executor’s responsibility to fulfill all probate requirements, which may vary by state.

Does the Executor Have Authority Over the Will?

An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate of the person who died. The executor may be a bank or trust company instead of an individual. While state law varies as to the exact duties of an executor, in general all executors must gather the estate's assets, pay creditors, then distribute remaining estate assets in accordance with the will's directives, without any discretion to deviate from the will except in limited circumstances.

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.

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