Making Funeral Arrangements in Arizona

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In Arizona, you may 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 Arizona?

Arizona law 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:

  • your surviving spouse, unless you were legally separated or there was a pending petition for divorce or legal separation
  • your agent under a health care power of attorney, if the document specifically gives the agent the power to make decisions regarding the disposition of your remains
  • your adult children
  • your parent
  • your sibling
  • your adult grandchild
  • your grandparent
  • an adult who exhibited “special care and concern” for you
  • the person acting as your “guardian of the person” at the time of your death, or
  • any other person who has the authority to handle the disposition of your body.

If there is more than one member of a category listed above, final arrangements may be made by any member of that category unless that person knows of another member of the category who objects. If there is an objection, decisions must be made by a majority of the members of the category who are reasonably available at the time.

(Arizona Statutes § 36-831.)

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 Data provided by the Department of Defense.

Surviving Spouse v. A Person You Name: Who Has Control?

Despite the order of preference set out above, there is an argument to be made that an agent named in a power of attorney could take precedence over a surviving spouse when the time comes to make funeral arrangements. The issue isn’t likely to arise for most people, because spouses usually name each other as health care agents. If you might want to appoint someone other than your spouse to carry out your final wishes, read the rest of this section. If not, skip ahead.

There is a conflict in the Arizona laws that govern funeral decisions. The law above clearly states that a surviving spouse has the ultimate decision-making power. However, another Arizona law expressly allows you to create a document setting out your final wishes, and it does not require funeral service providers to consult anyone before carrying out your instructions. (Arizona Statutes § 32-1365.01.)

Yet another Arizona law allows you to use your health care power of attorney to name the person who will make your funeral arrangements, and this law says nothing about the power of a surviving spouse to trump your designation. (Arizona Statutes § 36-3221(A).)

If you expect a conflict in this area, consult an experienced estate planning attorney.

Who Pays for Funeral Costs in Arizona?

The most recent statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association put the average cost of a funeral at $7,045. This figure 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. (Arizona Statutes § 36-831.)

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 (Arizona Statutes, Title 32, Chapter 12, Article 5), 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

As mentioned above, Arizona law allows you to prepare a legally binding document setting out your wishes for funeral arrangements -- including the kind of ceremony you envision and whether you want to be buried or cremated. (Arizona Statutes § 32-1365.01(A).) Writing down your wishes in advance will save your survivors the difficulty of making such decisions during an emotional and stressful time.

You must sign your final arrangements document and have it notarized or witnessed by one legally competent adult. Your wishes will be honored as long as you made financial arrangements to cover the costs. (Arizona Statutes § 32-1365.01(B), (D).)

Nolo offers several tools to help you write out detailed wishes for final arrangements. Each one walks you step-by-step through the process, so you won’t miss any important issues.

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.

Learn More

To find out more about Arizona laws covering funeral arrangements or to file a complaint against a funeral service provider, visit the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers website.

To learn more about making your final arrangements, see Getting Your Affairs in Order on Nolo.com.

For more information about making a health care power of attorney in Arizona, see Arizona Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney.

For details on the rules that control disposing of remains in Arizona, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Arizona.

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