Making Funeral Arrangements in North Dakota

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North Dakota is among the few states without a law allowing you to name someone to carry out your funeral plans, but the state does permit you to leave legally binding instructions about the kind of arrangements 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 North Dakota?

In North Dakota, the right and responsibility for making funeral arrangements goes first to a surviving spouse and then to your next of kin. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-03(1).)

While North Dakota doesn’t give you the option of naming your own final arrangements representative, the state does allow you to make a legally binding document stating the kind of body disposition you want -- for example, whether you want to be buried or cremated. You can include your instructions in any number of documents, including a:

  • pre-need funeral contract
  • health care directive
  • durable power of attorney
  • will
  • cremation authorization form, or
  • document of gift for an anatomical gift.

If the person with the legal responsibility to carry out your funeral arrangements (or the personal representative of your estate) knows about your instructions, they are almost always required by law to honor them. (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-03(4).)

See below for help writing out your wishes.

Should you name a representative even if North Dakota law doesn’t explicitly permit it? If you know who you want to oversee your funeral arrangements and you’re worried that person won’t be at the top of North Dakota’s list, it’s wise to go ahead and name your choice in writing. While funeral service providers may not be legally required to take direction from the person you name, your written wishes should carry great weight, especially if you combine your appointment with clear wishes about what you want, as North Dakota law allows.

One good way to name your final arrangements representative is to use a North Dakota durable power of attorney for health care or health care directive. You can explicitly state in your document that you want your health care agent to carry out your wishes for body disposition and funeral services after your death. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for final arrangements and health care decisions.

For more information about making a durable power of attorney for health care or health care directive in North Dakota, see North Dakota Living Wills and Health Care Directives.

To make a North Dakota health care document that appoints your health care agent to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus software.

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 North Dakota?

The most recent statistics from the National Funeral Directors Association put the average cost of a funeral at more than $7,000. This figure doesn’t include 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 North Dakota Century Code, Chapter 43-10.1, Pre-Need Funeral Services), 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.

Deciding on 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.

Because North Dakota doesn’t specifically permit you to designate the person who will carry out your wishes, it’s even more important that you clearly document what you want. Your survivors will be legally required to honor your wishes, as long as they do not impose an “economic or emotional hardship.” (North Dakota Century Code § 23-06-03(4).)

Nolo offers several tools to help you decide on and document your desires 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 North Dakota health care directive that names your health care agent to carry out your 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 personal representative 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.

Learn More

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 North Dakota, see Burial and Cremation Laws in North Dakota.

by: , J.D.

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