When a loved one dies, one of the biggest immediate concerns is the funeral. Funerals are so important to acknowledge the life of the deceased as well as providing a time and place for friends and family to come together in their time of grief.
Too many times though I have seen funerals add to the stress at such a difficult time. Uncertainty about who gets to decide what happens at the funeral and worry about who pays the cost are common areas of stress.
Decisions about the funeral
In Victoria, the Executor has the right to make decisions about funeral arrangements for the deceased person. Therefore, it is appropriate for the Executor to deal directly with the Funeral Director in making arrangements and the Executor will have signed the Contract directly with the Funeral Director.
Occasionally, at the time of death, the immediate family may not be aware of who is the Executor. In those circumstances, the next of kin is entitled to make funeral arrangements and that person is also liable to pay for the funeral account. Things can become difficult if the Executor considers that the funeral expenses were not reasonable and is not prepared to reimburse from the Estate assets, the actual cost of the funeral.
At present, the Executor also has the final say in relation to the funeral arrangements. As a result of a report produced by the Law Reform Commission, it is likely that new legislation will be passed soon by the Victorian Parliament which will enable anyone to make binding directions for their funeral arrangements and memorial costs.
Payment of the funeral expenses
In some circumstances, there are insufficient assets to pay for the cost of the funeral. In those circumstances, the person who has arranged the funeral is liable to pay the Funeral Director.
Usually, it is not possible to access bank accounts to pay any outstanding debts until a Grant of Probate has been obtained. The grant of probate may take up to two to three months from the date of death. However, there is an arrangement with all of the banks that they will, on production of the Funeral Account, arrange direct payment immediately.
An Executor is entitled to be reimbursed from the Estate assets for their reasonable costs of the funeral and any headstone/plaque.
It is still an excellent idea to pre-arrange your funeral wishes. Ideally, a discussion with a Funeral Director is a good start but leaving written directions that are easy for your Executor and family members to find is very important.
Russell Robertson is Bendigo’s only Accredited Wills and Estate Specialist. If you wish to chat about your will or how to make sure you can ensure your funeral arrangements, please phone Russell on 03 5445 1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org