With National Healthcare Decisions Day coming up on April 16, it’s good to review who your loved one has chosen as their healthcare power of attorney (sometimes called a “proxy” or “agent”). This is who will make decisions for them when they are no longer able to do so themselves. Often this occurs in end-of-life situations. The proxy is identified in a legal document called an “advance directive.”
Oddly enough, the healthcare proxy is not necessarily empowered to make decisions after the death, such as funeral arrangements.
If your relative prefers cremation and has made “preneed” arrangements with a funeral home, a “self-authorization” for cremation may have been signed. The funeral director will have that on file. If so, get a copy and store it with the advance directive. (Wills or trusts may not be read for several days or weeks after a death. Decisions about burial or cremation must be made before then.)
Be forewarned that special paperwork may be required for cremation. It is not unusual for this choice to generate family conflict.
To address potential lawsuits, funeral directors often need a “cremation authorization form” signed by the next of kin. Typically, the spouse. If no spouse, then child(ren). Note: If there is more than one adult child, it may be that all, or at least a majority, need to sign. Rules vary by state. Talk to a funeral director in the state where your loved one lives.
Some states do turn to the will or living trust to authorize a decision maker for disposition of the body. The executor of the will, or the trustee, may be the one who has the power to sign off for cremation.
Whoever the legal decision maker is, be sure they know your loved one’s wishes.