In 2013, Alaska passed a law allowing you to name the person who will carry out your funeral arrangements. You can also provide detailed instructions about your final wishes and set aside funds to cover your funeral expenses, including the costs of burial or cremation.
Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Alaska?
Alaska law now determines who can make decisions about funerals and body disposition -- that is, burial or cremation -- after someone dies. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:
- a person you name in a “disposition document” made before your death
- the personal representative of your estate, if the personal representative is acting according to written instructions you leave in your will (but see “Where to Store Your Funeral Plans,” below, to learn why a will is not the best place to leave funeral instructions)
- your surviving spouse
- your adult child, or a majority of your children if you have more than one
- your parents
- your next of kin, or a majority of those who are related to you by the same degree (your siblings, for example)
- a public administrator, medical examiner, coroner, or other public official (this provisions is for indigent people or those whose final arrangements are the responsibility of the state or local government), or
- any other person who is willing to assume legal and financial responsibility for your final arrangements.
The law also provides rules that say what happens if a majority of the deciding group -- for example, your children or siblings -- can’t be reached in time. For details, read Alaska Statutes § 13.75.020.
Making a disposition form. To make a valid document appointing someone to carry out your final wishes, you must write down what you want and sign your document in front of a notary public.
You can find Alaska’s new disposition form in Alaska Statutes § 13.75.030. You can also create your own form, or include the form in another document (such as your advance health care directive), as long as the language you use is substantially the same as the statutory form.
The person you name to carry out your final arrangements is legally required to sign the form before taking action under it.
If you’re in the military.Note that, if you are in the military, you may name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Dataprovided by the Department of Defense.
Who Pays for Funeral Costs in Alaska?
The most recent statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association put the average cost of a funeral at more than $7,000. That amount doesn’t cover many common expenses such as cemetery costs, markers, flowers, or obituaries. For many people, after a house and a car, funeral goods and services are the most expensive thing they’ll ever buy. It’s smart to make a plan to pay for these costs.
You have two basic options for covering your funeral expenses, including the costs of burial or cremation. You can:
- pay in advance, or
- leave enough money for your survivors to pay the bills.
If you don’t do either of these things, your survivors must cover the costs of your funeral arrangements.
Paying in advance. If you want to pay for your funeral arrangements ahead of time, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable funeral establishment and clearly document any plans you make, so your survivors can easily carry them out. Though the law requires providers of funeral goods and services to carefully manage your funds (see Alaska Statutes § 45.50.471(b)(24)), abuses do happen. What’s more, if a funeral establishment goes out of business, your careful planning may be lost.
For more information, see The Prepaid Funeral and Its Perils.
Setting aside funds. The safest and easiest way to cover the costs of your final arrangements is to estimate costs and tuck away the funds in an easily accessible, interest-earning bank account. You can designate a beneficiary who can claim the funds immediately after your death. Make sure the beneficiary understands what the money is for, however, and that you trust him or her completely, because the beneficiary is under no legal obligation to use the funds for your final arrangements.
For more information about setting up an account to cover the costs of your final arrangements, see Payable-on-Death (POD) Accounts: The Basics.
Writing Down Your Funeral Plans
Beyond simply naming a representative to carry out your final plans, letting your survivors know what kind of funeral arrangements you want -- including your wishes for ceremonies and whether you want to be buried or cremated -- will save them the difficulty of making these decisions during an emotional and stressful time. You can include your detailed final wishes with the written declaration that names your representative.
Alaska law states that the person who who oversees your final instructions must do so to the extent that your estate or the responsible person is financially able to do what you’ve asked. (See Alaska Statutes § 13.75.080.)
Nolo offers several tools to help you document your wishes for final arrangements. Each one walks you step-by-step through the process, so you won’t miss any important issues.
Quicken WillMaker Plus can create a final arrangements document for you. The software program asks you questions about your wishes and then produces a detailed document you can attach to your disposition form.
Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen with Shae Irving, is a workbook that provides a complete system for documenting information for your executor and family members, including your wishes for final arrangements.
Nolo’s Final Arrangements Kit includes all the basic forms and instructions you need to document your final wishes.
Where to Store Your Funeral Plans
While there are many ways to write down your wishes for final arrangements and make them clear, here’s a firm piece of advice: Don’t put them in your will. Your will may not be read until weeks after your death -- far too late to help your survivors. It’s better to prepare a separate document.
Store your final arrangements paperwork in a safe place and be sure your loved ones know where to look when the time comes. It may be helpful to make copies and tell them where to find the originals when they’re needed. If you do so, be sure to keep a list of everyone with copies, in case you need to get them back and change them later.
To learn more about the laws and regulations that apply to Alaska funeral establishments, see the Regulation of Morticians section of the State of Alaska website.
To learn more about making your final arrangements, see Getting Your Affairs in Order on Nolo.com.
For details on the rules that control disposing of remains in Alaska, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Alaska.