Pre-arranging a Funeral

Our first encounter with the death of a loved one leaves an impression forever. It is seldom convenient, never pleasant and usually traumatic even when expected. We may experience the entire gamut of emotions: love, anger, grief, regret, guilt, resentment, hate, even envy. It is not a good time to make decisions but sometimes they must be made, and made quickly.

We are faced with many options, some of which can be costly. You will receive information on all the options and the costs from the funeral home before you make funeral arrangements. However, during time of grief, you may not be able to absorb the information you receive and may be confused over what is “the right thing to do.”

The Michigan Funeral Directors Association has prepared this information in the hope that the trauma and pain will be diminished somewhat through knowledge.

When Death Occurs

SHARE YOUR GRIEF with a relative, a close friend, a neighbor, your clergy or even a stranger. Grief is a natural force. It is okay to cry but it is not a requirement. Crying is a release of emotions which some need and others do not. It is neither a measure of love nor the lack of it.

FUNERALS provide a time and place to face the loss of a loved one. They serve as a statement that the loved one has died and your life is now changed. Without this time, it is easy to deny both the death and the grief that follows. Funerals provide an opportunity for both family and friends to say good-bye.

CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE TOO and excluding children who wish to attend a funeral only adds to the confusion they already feel. Instead, prepare them beforehand by discussing what they will see. Allow time for their questions and answer them honestly and briefly. After the funeral, information available from your funeral director can help in correcting any misconceptions they may have.

Things You Should Know

DEATH AT HOME Sudden or unexpected death at home or other private residence when a physician is not present should be reported to the local law enforcement authority immediately. Do not disturb the body. When the police arrive, they will notify the proper authorities for removal of the body. Let the police know your preference of funeral home. Depending on the circumstances of death, it may be required that the remains be first transported to and/or released by the County Medical Examiner.

When death at home is anticipated, normally the patient is under Hospice care. When the death occurs, you should contact Hospice. Hospice will often facilitate many of the procedures listed above. You may however, contact the funeral home of your choice directly, if you wish.

EMBALMING Michigan regulations state that bodies that are neither buried nor cremated within 48 hours of death should be embalmed for transportation purposes. There is no exception under this regulation for refrigeration, nor is a funeral home required to have refrigeration available. Further, some funeral homes will require and have the right to require that embalming take place when there is a public visitation.

AUTOPSIES are performed, pursuant to State law, at the discretion of the County Medical Examiner when death occurs from any cause without a physician present or under suspicious circumstances. No family member may prohibit an autopsy by the County authority and no permission from the family is required. Any person with reasonable cause to believe that a death was not natural or accidental must report their suspicions to the local law enforcement authority and may request an autopsy by the Medical Examiner. Next-of-kin may grant or deny this privilege to the hospital where the death occurred.

CREMATIONS may take place legally only after permission has been received from the County Medical Examiner to ensure that no criminal action is concealed by the destruction of physical evidence. Embalming is required for transportation purposes, if the cremation does not take place within 48 hours of death or if the deceased had certain communicable diseases. The funeral home and crematory will require express written authorization for cremation from the next-of-kin.

THE RIGHT TO MAKE FUNERAL ARRANGEMENT AND FINAL DISPOSITION DECISIONS. Michigan law empowers the deceased’s next-of-kin to make funeral arrangement and final disposition decisions. When the next-of-kin status is shared by more than one individual the law allows decisions to be made by a majority of the individuals in the next-of-kin class. To illustrate, take the situation of a person who dies with no surviving spouse, but three children, and two of the children desire cremation while the third prefers burial. The cremation can proceed because a majority (two) of the next-of-kin are able to authorize it.
With regard to missing individuals or those that can't be located, reasonable efforts (which include attempting to contact the person at his or her last known address, telephone number, or electronic mail address) must be undertaken by a family member, personal representative, or nominated personal representative. If reasonable efforts to locate are accomplished, however, the disposition can proceed, so long as there is a majority in the same degree of kinship as the missing individual authorizing it.
If no next-of-kin exists or can be located after reasonable efforts, funeral arrangements and final disposition decisions are made by the individuals in the following order of priority:

If no one else exists, then the county public administrator, if willing, or county medical examiner may make decisions.

PROBATE COURT RAPID DISPUTE RESOLUTION. If the majority- rule standard doesn’t resolve intractable conflicts, or if the next-of-kin refuses to act, the Probate Court may be petitioned to resolve the problem. The case can be brought either by one of the next-of-kin, or the funeral director. The judge must hold a hearing within seven days to decide the matter in a timely fashion. This affords the family a resolution when a stalemate or intractable conflict exists.

CASKETS OR CONTAINERS are not required by State law for burial and caskets are not required for cremation. However, crematories and cemeteries usually have minimum requirements. A list of caskets and containers available for sale will be shown to you at the funeral home, with individual prices clearly listed. An owner or employee of a funeral home may not imply that a casket is protective when that is not true. A normal casket will impede but will not prevent the natural decomposition of a body.

CREMATORY POLICIES require some type of non-plastic, rigid, combustible container to hold the body during cremation. A funeral home can provide such a container.

CEMETERY REQUIREMENTS usually include a minimum container and some sort of protection to prevent the collapse of the grave after burial, such as a concrete liner or box or some type of vault. A vault is more expensive than a liner as it completely encases the casket. Neither a vault nor liner ensures preservation of the body. Many cemeteries have specific requirements concerning the type of memorial or marker that may be placed on the grave and minimum container requirements for entombment of cremated remains. Cemeteries may establish their own requirements and charge for them. Check with the cemetery of your choice to determine its minimum requirements.

CASH ADVANCE ITEMS are goods or services that are paid to a third party by the funeral director on your behalf such as obituary notices, death certificates, and clergy or musician honoraria. The funeral director may request payment for these services in advance. The law prohibits charging more than the actual cost of these items without informing the consumer.

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES. In general, you only have to pay for the goods and services that you want, although you may be required to pay a basic charge for professional services or may be required to purchase a certain good or service when the purchase of another good or service is impractical or unduly burdensome without it.

DEATH AWAY FROM HOME. If you are traveling (or living away from your home town) immediately contact your home town funeral director who will be able to make the necessary professional contacts for you (including, if necessary, a funeral home in the location of the death), usually within minutes, often avoiding costs resulting from duplication of services.

DEATH OVERSEAS. If death occurs in a foreign country, the U.S. Consulate in that country can assist in making arrangements. These arrangements vary in cost and can be very expensive, so be sure to insist upon careful cost estimates. Also be sure to obtain at least ten English translations of the death certificate at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.