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How to Arrange the Decedent's Funeral as Estate Executor

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As executor of an estate, you may need to arrange the decedent's funeral. From the time of the person's death, you may make sensitive decisions about arranging the funeral and choosing a cemetery. Take care in making these decisions as they can mean as much to the family as how you manage the estate. Also, be aware of special burial rights for veterans and the available options for paying for the funeral.

Consult with the decedent's family, both as a possible source for the decedent's wishes and to honor those of close family members. Don't rely on just one family member. Remember, any hard feelings that arise now will carry through the entire course of estate administration.

Sometimes, the decedent has left written wishes as to his or her funeral. Look through the decedent's personal papers, especially copies of his or her estate planning documents, to see if he or she left anything in writing with the other documents.

Arranging the funeral, eulogies, and collation

The decedent's family or clergy member may have a preference for a funeral director. Otherwise, make sure the funeral director is a member of a state or national funeral directors association. Check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if a director has any complaints.

If the decedent left burial wishes, honor them to the extent they're legal. Otherwise, honor the immediate family's wishes regarding clergyperson and place of funeral.

Here are additional — and important — pointers:

  • On the day of the funeral or memorial service, arrange for someone to watch the house — burglars read the obituaries and death notices.

  • Consider vetting written eulogies before the words are spoken to censor any potential airing of dirty laundry or attempts to redress past injustices.

  • In many American cultures, a collation, or light meal, is traditional after the funeral service. When arranging the collation, be aware of local and religious custom.

Choosing a cemetery and arranging for the headstone or grave marker

The decedent or the decedent's spouse or other family members may make the decision to use cremation. Otherwise, this choice may become yours. Remember, even cremated remains may be buried in a cemetery.

Several options are available when choosing a final resting place for the decedent's remains:

  • If the decedent has prepurchased a plot, use that plot.

  • If no family plot exists, choose a cemetery in a place significant to the decedent or one that family members may easily visit.

Although you don't need to order the grave marker immediately, it's an important task to take care of.

Special burial rights for veterans

If the decedent was an honorably discharged veteran, several benefits are available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

  • United States flag: Veterans are entitled to a U.S. flag to place folded in the open casket, drape the casket, or accompany the urn. The funeral home typically arranges for this.

    [Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/LeggNet 2011]
    Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/LeggNet 2011
  • Burial in a national cemetery: Veterans, their spouses, and their dependents may be buried at any of the national cemeteries with available space for no charge.

  • Headstone or marker: Whether buried in a national cemetery or not, eligible veterans are entitled to a government headstone or marker, provided by the VA.

  • Presidential Memorial Certificate: The Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current president. Loved ones and next of kin may apply for the certificate.

  • Burial allowance: Deceased veterans may also be entitled to a burial allowance.

Paying for funeral costs

The estate may pay for all reasonable funeral costs, to the extent that funds are available. Keep in mind that a judge may disallow payment of expenses found to be unreasonable. If your decedent's estate may be short of funds, keep funeral expenses to a modest amount.

Check with the funeral homes to see if the decedent has a funeral trust, in which he or she prepaid for the funeral. Funds in a decedent's funded revocable trust can also be used to pay expenses. If the decedent had a checking account joint with the surviving spouse, payment can come from that account. The amount can be repaid from other funds if the spouse doesn't ultimately receive the entire estate, minus expenses.

Sometimes the funeral home will wait for payment until the executor or administrator is appointed, but it frequently adds interest to the bill after a set amount of time. You may even apply for temporary executorship to pay for the funeral.

Don't let the funeral director talk you into something that seems like an unnecessary expense.


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