February 09, 2015
Insights - Blog

What To Do With The Body?

By: R. Thompson Gilman, Esq.

This article isn't about crime. It is about an efficient legal solution to a sometimes sticky problem.

In recent years, New York law authorized a new “Advance Directive." In the estate planning process, we always recommend that our clients consider signing Durable Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and Health Care Proxies. I hope you, the reader, have these “advance directives," and that they are up to date.

The new Advance Directive is called “Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains." Needless to say, fights over what to do with a dead body can be extremely contentious. It doesn't happen often, but it can be a difficult problem for decedents with children from different marriages, or the dispute can arise between siblings and the spouse, or between children by a first marriage, and a second or third spouse. This is also fertile ground for contention between blood relations and a decedent's same sex partner or spouse. Whether to cremate or bury, the locale for interment, the selection of funeral provider, and funeral service selections and the other details needing to be addressed in short order during a period of mourning can bring strong emotions to the point of heated argument or litigation.

Including funeral wishes in a Last Will and Testament may not solve the problem, since all too often the Will is “read" after the burial or cremation.

Have you considered your choices: cemetery, services, funeral director, etc.? One solution is to prepay and sign a prepaid funeral contract during your lifetime. This has become especially popular among older clients (and may be essential for a client at risk of depleting the entire estate on nursing home expenses).

Another effective solution is the new “Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains." You can name an agent and alternate agent(s); specify your wishes for services and interment; specify your choice of funeral director; and can even include details such as music and reading selections. The document gives the appointed agent legal authority to make your arrangements after your death in accordance with your instructions.

We encourage clients, particularly seniors, to make and communicate their wishes; and if there may be uncertainty about family members' willingness and ability to do what you want, when the time comes, the new Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains offers an efficient solution to what could otherwise create a huge dilemma for loved ones.

If you would like more information, please contact your Woods Oviatt attorney.