Most states have laws allowing individuals to specify their preferences for final arrangements, including whether they want to be buried or cremated, what kind of funeral services they want, and who should be in charge of carrying out their wishes. Unfortunately, Mississippi law allows you to specify your own wishes for body disposition and funeral services only if you make advance arrangements under a “preneed contract.” (Mississippi Code § 75-63-25.) There are real downsides to preneed arrangements; these are discussed below.
If you live in Mississippi, you should consider writing down your own wishes whether or not you make an advance contract for funeral services. Writing down your directions -- and naming the person you’d like to oversee them -- is the best way to let survivors know what you want. You can also aside funds to be sure your funeral expenses are covered, including costs of burial or cremation.
Who Has the Right to Make Funeral Arrangements in Mississippi?
Mississippi law determines who can make decisions about the disposition of your body by cremation. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:
- you, if you make a “preneed contract”
- your surviving spouse
- an adult child
- an adult grandchild
- a parent
- a sibling
- a person acting as your representative under a signed authorization
- your personal guardian at the time of your death
- your next of kin
- a person who has exhibited special care and concern for you
- an institutional representative, if you die in a nursing home or have donated your body to science
- any person who is willing to assume the responsibility, or
- a public official.
(Mississippi Code § 73-11-58.)
Even though Mississippi’s law gives you limited options, the best thing you can do is leave detailed, written instructions about the kind of final arrangements you want and name a representative to carry out your wishes. Your document will offer clear guidance to your survivors. If a dispute arises, your own directions should carry great weight.
One smart way to name someone to handle your final wishes is to make an advance health care directive. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
To make a Mississippi advance directive that appoints your health care agent to oversee your final plans, you can use Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus software.
For more information about making an advance directive in Mississippi, see Mississippi Living Wills and Advance Health Care Directives.
If you’re in the military. 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.
Who Pays for Funeral Costs in Mississippi?
The most recent statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association put the average cost of a funeral at $6,560. 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, Mississippi law requires your survivors to cover the costs of your funeral arrangements. (Mississippi Code § 73-11-58(8).)
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, for example, Mississippi Code §§ 75-63-59 and 75-63-61), 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
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. You can include your instructions with the document that names the person you chose to carry out your plans.
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 give to others. As mentioned above, you can also use the program to make a Mississippi advance health care directive naming your health care agent to carry out your final plans.
- 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 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 laws covering funeral arrangements in Mississippi, see the website of the Mississippi State Board of Funeral Service.
To learn more about making your final arrangements, see Getting Your Affairs in Order on Nolo.com.