The aftermath of a persons death brings both emotional and practical difficulties. At what can already be a very challenging time for friends and family, arrangements need to be made for the funeral and this can be massively upsetting if there is a dispute about who has the right to organise a funeral. Who organises the funeral depends on whether a Will has been left by the deceased. Even where Executors have been appointed in the Will, or an intended plan of action expressed, balancing the competing interests of honouring the wishes of the deceased and the views of family and friends can make an already fraught situation even more testing.

Who has the right to organise a funeral – where there is a Will

The Executors named in the Will bear the responsibility and obligation of organising the funeral or other ceremony as chosen by the deceased. Even where there are objections from the family the decision of the Executor is final, though in the absence of very strict instructions in the Will, they are able to take into account the wishes and views of others.

Some people will not want a traditional burial or cremation or may not share the faith or cultural beliefs of other family members. Many people have deeply entrenched opinions about what an appropriate send off is, and that may bring disagreements. Family units are often now less traditionally structured and there may be a wide range of people who have an interest in how the passing of the deceased might be marked.

A Will is the best way of ensuring that the deceased has an opportunity to clearly state their wishes with the usual expectation they will be followed. The appointment of a carefully chosen Executor entrusts the responsibility of arranging the funeral to someone who should act in the best interests of the deceased. It may even be sensible to think about appointing someone more independent and less emotionally involved than family members.

Should disagreements arise between the family and the Executor, then the Executor is the person with the power to decide, and the right to organise the funeral. People often don’t realise that appointing an Executor means that the decision about the funeral arrangements may not be made by the closest family members, even a spouse.

It is not unusual for there to be disagreements amongst Executors as up to four can be appointed in a Will. It is critical to get expert advice to ensure that the intentions of the deceased are properly expressed in the Will. In cases of dispute about the validity of a Will then in some cases, a Court may be asked to step in and make the decision about who has the right to organise the funeral.

This is another good reason for seeking good advice and making clear arrangements well in advance. Although the wishes expressed in a Will about any funeral arrangements are not legally binding, they will normally be respected, and it is the best way of ensuing that the Executors have a clear idea of what is desired.

Often now people have a funeral plan to pay for the burial, and this is something the Executors will need to be aware of as well. The plan may also specify where and how the funeral will take place.

Who has the right to organise a funeral –  no valid Will

In the absence of a valid Will, who has the right to arrange the funeral depends on whether an Administrator is appointed. The next of kin will usually make the arrangements. The rules on intestacy govern who can be appointed to deal with the estate, and as a consequence have the right to arrange the funeral. This will always  be a family member, appointed in a strict line of priority under the intestacy provisions.

This issue again highlights the importance of making a Will. The application of the Intestacy Rules can lead to unexpected and upsetting outcomes. Partners of the deceased, at the time of death, may find that they have no say in what happens as they are not a relative. Just like the Executors of a Will the Administrator has the final say on how the funeral should be arranged.

If no Administrators are appointed, or there is no family, the local authority will arrange a very simple public health funeral.

In the vast majority of cases, even where there is no Will or funeral plan, people close to the deceased come to a collective decision about the arrangements, and disputes are settled informally. However, to avoid conflict and uncertainty, the best course of action is to seek professional advice and settle the arrangements well in advance. Clearly expressed wishes, contained in a Will is the most sensible way of dealing with this potentially difficult issue.

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