Making Funeral Arrangements in Wisconsin
Learn who can make funeral plans and how to make arrangements in advance.
In Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin?
Wisconsin 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 representative you name before your death
- your spouse, unless divorce proceedings were pending at the time of your death
- your child, or a majority if you have more than one
- your parents
- your sibling, or a majority if you have more than one
- your next of kin
- your guardian, if one was appointed for you, or
- any person who is willing and able to take the job.
If your next of kin disagree about your final arrangements, they must go to court to resolve their dispute. (Wisconsin Statutes § 154.30(3)(c).) To avoid such an outcome, it’s wise to name your representative in advance.
How to appoint a representative. To name someone to carry out your funeral arrangements, you must write down what you want, then date and sign your document in front of two witnesses or a notary public. If you choose to have your document witnessed, your witnesses must be at least 18 years old and may not be related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption. Your authorization document must list the name and last-known address of your representative, and your representative must sign the document before taking action under it. (Wisconsin Statutes § 154.30(8)(d).)
Who can serve as your representative. With limited exceptions, any adult may act as your representative. The following individuals may not serve if they have a direct professional relationship with you, unless you are related by blood, marriage, or adoption:
- a funeral director
- a crematory authority
- a cemetery authority
- an employee of a funeral director, crematory authority, or cemetery authority
- a health care provider, or
- a social worker.
Where to get an authorization form. You can download a free Wisconsin “Authorization for Final Disposition” from the website of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. If you don't want to use the official form, you are welcome to create your own form, as long as it meets all the requirements described above.
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 Wisconsin?
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 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, Wisconsin Statutes § 445.125), 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
Beyond simply naming a representative, 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 instructions with the written document that names your representative.
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 what you want and produces a detailed document you can give to others.
- 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 Wisconsin, plus consumer protection information, visit the website of the Wisconsin State Law Library.
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 Wisconsin, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Wisconsin.