Michigan is among the few states without a law allowing you to name someone to carry out your funeral arrangements. That doesn’t mean you should ignore this important task, however. It is better to write down your wishes for final arrangements -- and name the person you’d like to oversee them -- so your survivors know what you want.
You can also aside funds to be sure your funeral expenses are covered, including costs of burial or cremation.
Michigan 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:
If there is more than one member of a class described above -- for example, if you have several children or many siblings -- decisions must be made by a majority of them. If they cannot agree, they will have to go to court to resolve their dispute. (Michigan Compiled Laws § 700.3206(4).)
Naming a representative. Unlike most states, Michigan does not have a law allowing you to appoint a representative to oversee your final arrangements. Consider doing so anyway, by naming the person you choose in a signed, dated document. Your survivors aren’t legally required to follow your instructions, but they are more likely to do so if your wishes are clear. Also, in the unlikely event of a court dispute, your instructions would likely carry great weight.
If you’re 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.
The National Funeral Directors Association reports that the average cost of a funeral is more than $7,000. 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:
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 the Michigan Prepaid Funeral and Cemetery Sales Act), 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.
Letting your survivors know what kind of funeral arrangements you envision -- 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. If you make a document naming a representative to oversee your plans, you should include your wishes in that document or attach them to it.
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.
While there are many ways to write down your wishes for final arrangements and make them clear, here’s a firm piece of advice to follow: 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 find the rules covering funeral arrangements in Michigan, including consumer protection information, see the website of the Michigan Funeral Consumers Information Society.
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 Michigan, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Michigan.