Controlling Your Funeral

The State of New Jersey has a detailed law that clearly defines who can legally make decisions for the funeral and disposition (burial or cremation) of a deceased person. Funeral homes and cemeteries are required to follow the law for all arrangements. 

New Jersey’s law (N.J.S.A. 45:27-22 Control of funeral, disposition of remains) specifies who has the right to provide authorization to a funeral home to transfer the deceased from their place of death, make decisions for the deceased’s care and disposition, and determine the selection of funeral merchandise.  

The law explains that if the deceased has not left a will or state approved document appointing a person to control their funeral, burial or cremation or if a United States military form DD 93 is not in force, the right to control follows the order below, unless other directions have been issued by a court order: 

  • Legal spouse, NJ registered domestic or civil union partner
  • Majority of surviving children over the age of 18
  • Surviving parent(s) of decedent
  • Majority of surviving siblings over the age of 18
  • Other relatives according to the degree of relationship
  • If there are no known living relatives as outlined above, the funeral director and cemetery may accept the written authorization of other interested parties (i.e., friend, neighbor, colleague)

You can prearrange and prepay for your funeral. But even if you make your wishes known, in New Jersey, you cannot “control” your own funeral. The individual who has the legal right to control your funeral at the time of your death will make the final decisions with the funeral home.

What is a funeral Agent?

If you have any doubt about how your funeral arrangements may be handled at the time of your death or if you are unsure whether your relatives will abide by your final wishes, you may want to consider appointing a Funeral Agent. A Funeral Agent is a person specifically designated in your will or acknowledged witnessed and notarized on a state approved document to handle your funeral arrangements. The executor of a will does not have automatic right to control your funeral and disposition, unless specific wording is included in the will. You should contact an attorney to discuss your options and obtain further guidance when appointing a funeral agent.

What if you can't agree?

If you share the primary right to control a funeral with other family members (such as siblings, spouses, parents, etc.) but cannot come to a mutual decision, you may need to seek advice from an attorney who will guide you through the process of petitioning a court to grant direction on who has the final right to control. 

Once a court order is granted appointing right to control, the individual(s) issued rights by the court order will supersede the rights of all others.

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