You Can't Always Get What You Want: Inconsistent State Statutes Frustrate Decedent Control Over Funeral Planning
Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal
53 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2018 Last revised: 6 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 5, 2020
Americans have more choices than ever before with respect to the disposition of their remains after death. For some people, the choice of burial place, or the election to have their remains cremated, is the final opportunity to express and fulfill important values. American common law has long provided decedents with the broad right to direct the disposition of their own remains after death.
However, an inconsistent patchwork of state statutes has complicated and frustrated this fundamental common law right. Many states require decedents to comply with strict formalities, or prohibit decedent control outright.
This disconnect between common and statutory law creates problems for decedents and estate planning professionals for several reasons. First, funeral and disposition directions are often a neglected aspect of estate planning. Second, the laws that determine the enforceability of such directions are based on where the remains are located, not where the decedent resided. This Article examines these problems and provides a comprehensive appendix listing and summarizing each state’s “personal preference” and “designated agent” laws as an aid to practitioners.
Keywords: personal preference, decedent, estate planning, funeral, disposition, designated agent, estate
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