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May 19, 2018 Beyond The Dash

Who is Responsible for Planning a Funeral?

Navigating the first few days after a death

Who is Responsible for Planning a Funeral?
One of the first things to do when a death has occurred is to locate the deceased's will, and determine their wishes for the funeral. (Shutterstock)

Funerals are usually planned in a rush. Unless arrangements were made in advance, there is a scramble to determine who should start making arrangements for the final goodbye. If no such person was designated by the deceased, who is responsible for planning the memorial service?


What is involved in planning a funeral?


The person who plans the funeral is usually responsible for ensuring all aspects of the funeral are planned and executed in accordance with the deceased person's wishes. A qualified funeral director can guide those involved, but ultimately someone who knew the deceased person well should be signing off on the final decisions.


Duties can include writing and publishing the obituary, planning the events of the funeral service, selecting a eulogist, arranging for reception catering, choosing a coffin, urn or other arrangement for remains, and selecting funeral music—and the list goes on.


The deceased's final wishes matter


Before making any decisions, it's important to consider the deceased's wishes. Did they mention who should handle their arrangements before dying? In cases where the deceased only made verbal requests, those wishes should be honored. 


Consult legal documentation left by the deceased. Sometimes the will provides all the direction required to determine who should start meeting with funeral directors. Some documents to look for are a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Last Will and Testament. If the deceased has completed either one of these documents, it should specify who is responsible for planning their funeral should they pass away. 


Nowadays there are many businesses that can help folks lay out their final wishes. Though these wishes are often not legally binding, they leave no questions regarding how the funeral can be handled. Companies like Cake (US), Letter of Wishes (UK) and Final Wish (CAN) can securely store documents containing instructions, and release them to survivors at the time of death. 


Who is responsible when no wishes have been expressed?


The person who plans the funeral does not necessarily need to be the executor or an estate representative in order to handle the memorial planning. However, the estate will usually pay for the funeral arrangements, so the person planning should ensure they are planning in accordance with the estate budget.


If the deceased has not listed a specific individual to take care of their estate and funeral, the responsibility falls to the next of kin, or nearest relative. If the designated person is unwilling or unable to carry out the duties required the legal “order of precedence” should be consulted to determine who is responsible. 


The order is as follows:



  • Legal spouse or partner

  • Surviving adult child 

  • Surviving parent

  • Surviving adult sibling

  • Authorized guardian

  • Grandchildren

  • Great-grandchildren

  • Nieces and nephews

  • Grand-nieces and grand-nephews

  • Grandparents

  • Aunts and uncles

  • First cousins

  • Great-grandchildren of grandparents

  • Second cousins

  • Fiduciary (a legally appointed trustee)


Time is of the essence


Ideally, only someone who is responsible, clear-headed and legally-appointed should take on the role of planning a funeral.


But sometimes it's not possible to discover the last will or final legal wishes before making funeral arrangements. Nonetheless, the dead must be buried within a respectful time period. Hopefully this article helps you and your family better understand who should take on the important duty of planning and executing the funeral. 

Having trouble writing an obituary? Try our free interactive obituary template.

Fill in some information about your loved one, and we'll generate some text that you can use as a starting point for your online memorial.

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