In Virginia, 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.
Virginia law determines who can make decisions about funerals and body disposition -- that is, burial or cremation -- after someone dies. This right and responsibility goes either to a person you name in a signed, notarized document or your next of kin. (Virginia Code § § 54.1-2825 and 54.1-2807(B).) "Next of kin" includes the following people:
(See Virginia Code § 54.1-2800.)
If your next of kin disagree about your final arrangements, they must go to court to resolve their dispute. (Virginia Code § 54.1-2807.01.) 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 sign your document in front of a notary public. Before taking action under the document, the representative you name must sign it, too.
You can download a free Virginia form to name a funeral agent from the website of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge.
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 average cost of a funeral is 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:
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 Virginia’s Regulations for Preneed Funeral Planning), 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.
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.
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 Virginia, plus a link to file a complaint against a funeral services provider, visit the website of the Virginia Board of Funeral Directors & Embalmers.
For consumer protection information in Virginia, see the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge.
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 Virginia, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Virginia.