Appointing a designated funeral agent is a legal way for you to specify a person to be in charge of arranging your funeral. This could entail trusting them to follow through with your personal funeral preferences or allowing them to be in charge of all funeral decisions and the arrangement of your funeral. Appointment of a funeral agent trumps the normal next-of-kin rules as outlined by the state you live in (spouse, children, parents, living relatives, etc....). Funeral agents can be anyone: executors of estates, your spouse, one of your children, a parent, another relative, or a friend with whom you trust to carry out your funeral wishes.
What Does a Designated Funeral Agent Do?
A person who is designated as a funeral agent is in charge of making the funeral arrangements and utilizing any money set aside for this purpose in the will of the deceased.
It is best to have a discussion with the person you would like to appoint as your designated funeral agent, get their consent, and buy-in prior to appointing them as such. This helps avoid surprises and ensures they are on the same page as you with what your funeral wishes are.
However, following death, but prior to the official proving of the will, the executor of the will must inform the funeral agent of their appointment, and let them know how much money is available for funeral expenses.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance notes that,
"a designated agent is not obligated to carry out the wishes of the deceased if they're highly impractical, illegal, or financially burdensome. It's very important for the designator and agent to understand how much their wishes will cost, and to plan and budget accordingly. The designator should not expect the agent to pay for a costly funeral if there is no money set aside for that expense."
If a person does not want the responsibility as funeral agent, then someone else should be appointed to arrange the funeral on the designator’s behalf. If that right is waived, the control of the funeral passes to other individuals in the order outlined in the state's right-to-control hierarchy.
Why Appoint a Designated Funeral Agent?
Those who may want to consider delegating a funeral agent are people who think their relatives may not honor their funeral wishes or pre-arrangements. Also, if a state's law outlines the next-of-kin as multiple people with a requirement that all agree, this may cause a conflict in decision making. In these scenarios, it is sometimes best to appoint just one person to override the state's policy.
Others who would benefit from appointing a designated funeral agent are: people who may be estranged from their spouse or next-of-kin, or do not know where the living relatives are located, or those who do not have any living relatives.
How to Appoint a Designated Funeral Agent
Designating a funeral agent usually requires you to put in writing the name and contact information of the designated funeral agent. The process and required forms for appointing a designated funeral agent vary from state to state. In some states, like North Carolina, a designated healthcare power of attorney (often part of the Advance Directive) form is required to entrust that person with the right to make decisions about how the funeral will be conducted, as well as the burial, cremation or anatomical donation.
New Jersey, is one of few states that require the designated funeral agent to be listed in the will. Since the will is often not found or read until after the funeral, we recommend that this appointment and form also be made readily available outside the will by providing a copy of it to the designated funeral agent, your lawyer, family, etc.