Making Funeral Arrangements in Montana

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In Montana, 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 Montana?

Montana 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:

  • a person you name in your disposition directions before your death
  • your surviving spouse
  • your adult child, or a majority of your children if you have more than one
  • your parents
  • your adult sibling, or a majority of your siblings if you have more than one
  • your grandparent, or a majority of your surviving grandparents
  • your guardian
  • the personal representative of your estate
  • your next of kin
  • a public official, if the disposition of your body is the responsibility of the state, or
  • any other person willing to assume the responsibility.

(Montana Code § 37-19-904.)

How to Appoint Your Funeral Agent in Montana

In Montana, you have a number of options for naming the person who will handle your final affairs. You may:

  • Sign an affidavit in front of a notary public. If you choose this option, your document must include language that is substantially similar to Montana’s official form. You can find the form in Montana Code § 37-19-904(1), or download a free copy from the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
  • Make a video describing your wishes. The video must be accompanied by a written document in which two adult witnesses attest to its accuracy. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(3)(a).)
  • Prepare and sign a written document in front of two adult witnesses. Your witnesses must sign the document, too. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(3)(b).) The document can be a letter of instructions, a will, an advance health care directive, or another written form -- but see below for information about why it’s not a good idea to use a will for this purpose.
  • Make a prepaid funeral contract. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(1).) There are downsides to prepaid funeral arrangements, however. See below for more information.
  • If you are in the military, name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Data provided by the Department of Defense.

One of the smartest ways to name your representative is to complete a Montana durable power of attorney for health care. In your document, you can give your health care agent explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. (You must make this authority clear in your advance directive; otherwise your agent’s decision-making power ends upon your death.) This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.

For information about making a power of attorney, see Montana Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care.

To make a Montana power of attorney for health care that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus software.

Who Pays for Funeral Costs in Montana?

The average funeral costs more than $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. 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 wise 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, for example, Montana Code § 37-19-827), 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.

Documenting Your Funeral Plans

Beyond naming someone 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 in the document or video that names your representative.

In Montana, your directions may not be canceled or substantially changed unless you specifically say that your named representative may revise your plans. (Montana Code § 37-19-903(2).)

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 Montana durable power of attorney for health care, naming your health care agent to carry out your instructions.
  • 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, 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 the rules covering funeral arrangements in Montana, including a link to file a complaint against a funeral services provider, visit the website of the Montana Board of Funeral Service.

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 Montana, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Montana.

by: , J.D.

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