Most of us do not want to think about our own funeral, but it is an issue we should all address as part of our overall estate planning process. Under Wisconsin law, you have the right to appoint a representative to “control the final disposition” of your remains. Normally this is the same person named to serve as executor of your estate, although it may be a different individual.
If you do not designate someone to handle your funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements, the law specifies an order of priority for who gets to make those decisions. The basic order is your spouse, your children, your parents, and your siblings. If there is more than one person in a given category–e.g., you have multiple children–then a majority will typically decide.
Parents’ Disagreement Over Son’s Funeral Leads to Contempt of Court
Having multiple decision-makers can be problematic, however, especially if there is existing intra-family strife, which may be further exacerbated by the circumstances of a family member’s death. Once again, this is why it is always a good idea to name a representative or leave instructions regarding your own funeral and burial. Leaving it up to the family can lead to unexpected–and unwelcome–consequences.
Consider this tragic case from Outagamie County. Two parents lost their teenage son to suicide. The couple divorced four years earlier and a court intervened to direct the handling of the child’s funeral.
Specifically, the court authorized the mother to make the actual funeral arrangements, although the actual service would take place at a funeral home that the father happened to own. The court’s order directed the mother to work with a funeral director employed by the father, and provided she be “entitled to fully participate in every part of the wake and funeral service.”
Sadly, this was not the end of the matter. At the wake, the father set up a table near the viewing area. On the table, there were several items designed to prevent suicide awareness, including cards that said when the son “told his mom he was feeling suicidal, she sent him to his room and told him to relax.”
The mother, who never approved of the table or cards, subsequently returned to court and asked the judge to hold her ex-husband in contempt. The judge did so and sentenced him to six months in jail. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District III, later upheld the contempt finding but reversed the jail sentence.
Get Help from a Madison Estate Planning Lawyer Today
The above case is a terrible illustration of what can go wrong when family members, already dealing with extraordinary grief and trauma, are left to handle funeral arrangements without guidance from the deceased. Do not put your own family in this situation.
The estate lawyers of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We assist clients in and around Madison, Wisconsin with all matters related to estate planning, trusts, and probate matters. Our dedicated attorneys will even make house calls if you are unable to come to our office.