As a longtime funeral director, I’ve seen a number of changes over the years in the laws that impact funeral service. None have been as significant as Michigan Public Act 57 of 2016 which took effect on June 27, 2016. Commonly known as the Funeral Representative Law, its intent is to give peace of mind and more control to individuals when it comes to funeral planning.
Let me say at the outset that I believe the vast majority of the new law is positive. It allows individuals to choose who will be in charge of their funeral service, burial and cremation arrangements after they are gone, it clarifies responsibilities of families and funeral directors and it provides direction for other situations when there is no clear “next-of-kin.” That being said, not everyone needs a Funeral Representative nor is there any requirement to name one. Not having a named funeral representative simply means the long standing guidelines leaving the next-of-kin in charge of these difficult decisions remain in effect.
For decades in Michigan, only the legal next-of-kin was able to make decisions about funeral, burial and cremation arrangements. This requirement was absolute. Many have mistakenly thought that having power of attorney, being nominated as a successor trustee of a trust, executor of a will or personal representative of an estate extended these powers. Funeral directors have been bound by state law, which allowed us to proceed only on the authorization of the next-of-kin, sometimes in conflict with the wishes of the deceased. At times that person or persons were unavailable, lived a long distance away, were estranged or were simply not the person the deceased wanted to handle the arrangements in the first place.
It’s difficult to explain to someone’s longtime “significant other” that they have no legal standing to direct the arrangements for one whose life they have so long been part. Yet a child or sibling who has long been absent or had virtually no relationship with the deceased, whose whereabouts may not even be known, have the authority to direct the arrangements and must be located. This is but one example of the difficult situations some loved ones face when a death occurs.
P.A. 57 changes this, allowing any person at least 18 years of age and of sound mind to name another person as their “Funeral Representative.” It grants full power to arrange funeral services and direct burial or cremation arrangements. Family and relationship dynamics have changed over the years and this new law attempts to address that change.
Naming a Funeral Representative can be done as part of a Last Will and Testament but will most often be done with a separate document known as a “Funeral Representative Designation.” The “declarant” must indicate they are of sound mind and signing the document voluntarily. It must be signed in the presence of a Notary Public OR in the presence of two qualified witnesses. The “designee” must also sign, acknowledging they accept the appointment.
P.A 57 has taken several steps in the right direction and should be a great help to many families.
This is a cursory overview of the new law. For additional information, a Funeral Representative Designation form or a copy of the law itself, please contact us anytime at the funeral home by calling 989-732-2230.