If you want to name someone to carry out your funeral arrangements, New Jersey law requires that you do so in your will. Otherwise, your relatives will make final decisions for you.
Whether or not you appoint a representative to oversee your final wishes, it’s always a good idea to write down what kind of arrangements you want and set aside funds to cover your last expenses, including the costs of burial or cremation.
Read on for important information about how to handle these tasks.
New Jersey 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:
Appointing a representative in your will. You can name any adult to oversee your final arrangements; the person does not have to be the executor of your will. If you use your will for this purpose, it is critical that you give a copy of your will to the person you name -- or tell them how to easily find it after your death. Don’t lock your will away in a safe deposit box or otherwise restrict your representative’s access to it. If you do, your wishes may not be located until it is too late to carry them out.
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 puts 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:
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 handle your arrangements and your funds (see, for example, New Jersey Statutes § 45:7-85), 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 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 wishes with the document that names your representative or give copies to those who are likely to be handling your arrangements after death.
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. You can use the program to make your health care power of attorney, too.
For more information about the laws governing funerals in New Jersey, including consumer protection information, see the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association.
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 New Jersey, see Burial and Cremation Laws in New Jersey.