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Who Has the Legal Right to Plan a Person’s Funeral?


A sudden, unexpected death in the family can leave the survivors struggling to answer some basic questions about what steps to take next. For example, who will plan the funeral? Did the deceased leave any instructions about how they wished to be honored or buried? And who even has the legal right to make such decisions?

A recent tragic story from Texas illustrates how the legal system may need to get involved in answering these questions. The death of a 28-year-old Fort Worth woman, Atatiana Jefferson, made national headlines after she was shot and killed in her own home by a local police officer. Subsequent reports detailed a disagreement between Jefferson’s father and aunt over how to handle her funeral arrangements.

At one point, the father obtained a restraining order from a Texas judge after he said the aunt improperly excluded him from the funeral arrangements. Attorneys for the family members later reached an agreement after seven hours of negotiations, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Fort Worth Police Shooting Victim’s Family Go to Court to Resolve Who Will Plan Her Funeral

So who does have the legal right to plan a deceased person’s funeral? In the Jefferson case, the father argued he had legal priority to do so under Texas law. Indeed, every state has some rule on the books regarding who can assume the responsibility for making funeral arrangements.

Here in Florida, the law works like this. If you leave written instructions prior to your death regarding your funeral or the disposition of your remains, those instructions take priority. You can provide instructions as part of your will or a separate document. Absent such instructions, Florida law designates the person highest on the following list to make funeral, burial, and cremation decisions:

  • your spouse;
  • a majority of your children who are over the age of 18;
  • your parents;
  • your siblings (provided they are at least 18 years old);
  • your grandchildren (provided they are at least 18 years old)
  • your grandparents; or
  • any person in the “next degree of kinship” (i.e., your closest living relatives who are not listed above).

It should also be noted that if you are a member of the U.S. armed forces, you can fill out a “Defense Record of Emergency Data.” This form allows you to designate someone to handle your funeral and burial arrangements should you be killed while on active duty. Such a designation takes priority over the list of relatives above.

Additionally, while your spouse normally takes priority over other relatives, such priority is lost if your spouse is charged with an act of “domestic violence” that “resulted in contributed: to your death. In other words, your spouse is not allowed to plan your funeral if the police charge them with killing you.

Speak with a Lee County, Florida, Estate Planning Lawyer Today

Nobody likes to think about making their own funeral arrangements. But making your wishes known in an advance can help avoid a situation where your relatives end up going to court just to figure out who should plan your memorial service and burial. If you need advice on this or any related subject from an experienced Fort Myers estate planning attorney, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free consultation.


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