Pay close attention, people. If you come from a dysfunctional family, you haven’t seen your spouse or your children in decades but they still legally belong to you, or you’ve outlived anybody even remotely related to you . . . or you know and/or are caring for someone who meets that description, LISTEN UP. This is a public service announcement that will save both of us a lot of heartache and headaches when Death comes to call.
If you don’t have someone who is legally allowed to make your funeral arrangements—or you don’t like or trust the people who occupy that position—you can change that with one simple form. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
To begin—who has the right to arrange for your funeral? Well, first and foremost, you do. Yes, you can prearrange and/or prepay for your funeral and the law says that prearrangement becomes our directions when you die. The only problem is that we may have to look at a table full of people and tell them they can’t cremate you and take the rest of the money because that’s not what you legally, officially said you wanted; that’s gonna be hard to do because you won’t be around to back us up (and yes, we’ve had families that did that, but the Tennessee Code Annotated didn’t address the issue then). Of course, the law is on our side, but that can get very ugly very quickly. It can also be devastating to the family if you wanted cremation and they are morally opposed to such (which has also happened—more than once). So, first moral to the story, if you have a good relationship with your family, please discuss your plans with them before you carve them in stone with us.
But suppose you didn’t prearrange, then who gets to decide? Next on the list is your Healthcare Agent as named in your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, if you have one. For the sake of clarity, now might be a good time to just review the whole list.
PRIORITY OF DISPOSITION RIGHTS UNDER THE LAWS OF TENNESSEE:
- Disposition directions or a preneed funeral contract
- Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving child or children (majority rules)
- Surviving parent or parents
- Surviving siblings (majority rules)
- Surviving grandchild or grandchildren (majority rules)
- Surviving grandparent or grandparents (majority rules)
- Legal guardian at the time of the person’s death
- Personal representative of the estate
- All other relations, in order of right to inherit
- An administrator or employee of the state if it becomes the state’s responsibility (don’t bet on this one . . .)
- Anybody else who’ll step up to the plate
See what a mess we can have if none of these people exist, or worse yet, they do and refuse to accept responsibility? As you can tell from this legal list, someone doesn’t just magically get to walk in and take charge, even if they’ve cared for you for years, and if there isn’t anyone to step up, your final arrangements could be left to a total stranger. Is that really what any of us want? I know, I know. If we were to ask a lot of you, we’d probably hear “It won’t matter. I’ll be dead.” Yes. Yes, you will. But generally, no matter how long you’ve lived or how estranged you may be from your family, there is someone who cares for you, and that’s who’ll have to suffer through all the waiting and the red tape. That’s why a Healthcare Agent is so important. They aren’t just empowered to make healthcare decisions; they also have limited power after death. That power allows them to 1) authorize an autopsy, 2) donate your organs, or 3) see to the disposition of your remains. In other words, make your funeral arrangements.
So if you don’t have family who can or will or who you want to make your funeral arrangements, do the people who care about you a favor (and, by extension, whatever funeral home may be in charge). Make certain someone, somewhere has the legal right, the willingness, and the ability to do so when that time comes. And if you’re the caregiver and you know this is going to be a problem, take steps now to solve it. Folks can’t sign legal documents once they are mentally incapable of understanding them and, despite the fact that we’ve had people actually ask, folks can’t sign legal documents after they die. At either point, it’s a little late to start trying to fix the problem.