There are times when people outlive their family members, become estranged from living relatives or are unsure that remaining family members will abide by their final wishes. By law, you cannot authorize your own funeral and disposition (burial, cremation, etc.), so what can you do?
In New Jersey, you have the right to appoint a funeral agent. Once named, an agent has the absolute right to arrange for an individual’s burial or cremation and make final funeral arrangements. The funeral agent’s right to control supersedes the rights of all others, including spouses, civil union and domestic partners, children, parents and siblings.
Appointing a Funeral Agent
New Jersey law provides two options for those seeking to appoint a funeral agent.
The first method is through a will or a codicil to a will. Those wishing to appoint a funeral agent by this method should talk to an attorney and explain that they wish to designate an individual as a funeral agent according to N.J.S.A. 45:27-22. The executor of a person’s will is not automatically the funeral agent, unless a specific appointment and wording is included in the will.
The attorney will either draw up a will or amend the existing will to include language similar to the following to appoint a funeral agent:
Appointment of Funeral and Disposition Representative
"I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint [insert name] to serve as my Funeral and Disposition Representative, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:27-22. My Representative shall have the authority and power to control the arrangements for my funeral and the disposition of my remains. My Executor shall notify my Representative of this appointment, and shall advise my Representative of the financial means available to carry out the Funeral and Disposition arrangements. In the event [insert name] should predecease me or for some other reason not qualify to serve as my Funeral and Disposition Representative, then I nominate, constitute and appoint [insert name of alternate] as my Funeral and Disposition Representative.”
The second method is through the execution of a form approved by the New Jersey Cemetery Board. The form would need to be signed by the intended funeral recipient and two witnesses and notarized. This form, however, has not yet been approved by the New Jersey Cemetery Board. Until it has been approved, those seeking to name a funeral agent must still do so through a will or a codicil.
Who Can Be a Funeral Agent?
The executor of an estate, a friend, a specific relative, lawyer or other acquaintance can be named as a funeral agent. By law, employees of the funeral home, crematory or cemetery that will handle the decedent’s funeral cannot be named the funeral agent.
If you are designated a funeral agent, you are in charge of making the funeral arrangements for the deceased. Following death, but prior to probate, the executor of the will must inform you of your appointment as funeral agent and let you know what finances are available for the funeral expenses. A funeral director will guide you through the arrangement process and help you understand the decisions you need to make.