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Who Will Control My Funeral?

Along with many other states, New Jersey has what is called the Right to Control Law (N.J.S.A. 45:27-22).

The law outlines a family-tree hierarchy that determines who has control over the funeral and disposition (cremation, burial, entombment or donation) of a deceased person, and is ordered as follows:  

·        Court Order

·        Funeral Agent or designee of an active duty service member

·        Legal spouse, NJ registered domestic or civil union partner

·        Majority of children (over the age of 18)

·        Parent(s)

·        Majority of siblings (over the age of 18)

·        Other relatives

·        Other interested parties (if there are no known living relatives)

Now a distinction must be made here. Having the right to control the funeral and disposition of a deceased person does NOT mean having authority over the estate of the deceased, or any other business or financial matters. That person would be the executor, and they are not necessarily the same person.

What if there is no one to authorize?

“Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name, nobody came.” The Beatles sang about a lot of things, even inadvertently addressing an important challenge in funeral arrangements in their song, Eleanor Rigby—what happens when there is no one to make the decision?

With an average life expectancy of age 79 for men and 81 for women in the United States, there is a good possibility that individuals who exceed that age will outlive their family. In cases where there are no blood relatives remaining, an individual classified as an “other interested party” may authorize the funeral and disposition. The category would include any friend, neighbor, care worker or other person willing to take on the responsibility.

In situations where an individual does not have family or close relatives, it is highly recommended that a funeral prearrangement be made. Helpful online tools like the interactive Funeral Matters builder can help you go through the process of choosing the service and disposition options you prefer, getting prices along the way. You can then share your selections with a funeral director.

As part of the process, it is encouraged that individuals inform the funeral director of all relatives who fall within the right to control hierarchy. Names, addresses and telephone numbers should all be provided whenever available. If there are no relatives, giving contact information for friends or neighbors will also be helpful. Then, at the time of death, the funeral director would contact the person designated to carry out those prearranged wishes.