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My uncle passed away last week. His next of kin lives out of state. Can someone else make the funeral arrangements but still have the next of kin take care of all the legal responsibility?

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    Please accept my sincere condolences and wishes for a smooth transition. I presume your question refers to covering funeral expenses, in which case I think the answer is most likely "Yes". However, you might want to consider narrowing your question ("but still have the next of kin take care of all the legal responsibility?") to reflect what precisely you are inquiring about. Here's an extreme example: If the person making the funeral arrangements killed the uncle, it's going to be very hard for anyone else to take all the legal responsibility. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 20 '18 at 17:35
  • SE doesn't allow editing comments after 5 minutes, but I need to emphasize that the extreme example above is only intended to illustrate the ambiguity of the question. – Iñaki Viggers Jun 20 '18 at 17:45
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    Are you asking about making the funeral arrangements but obligating the next of kin to pay for those arrangements? "Legal responsibility" here depends on what they are responsible for. If you are talking execution of the last will and testament, that may be different. – Ron Beyer Jun 21 '18 at 0:59
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Anyone who pays for a funeral and/or disposition of remains for a decedent is entitled to reimbursement on a priority basis, ahead of all heirs and all or almost all other creditors, from the decedent's probate estate (i.e. the assets left behind by the decedent that are not subject to transfer via survivorship rights or a beneficiary designation).

But, next of kin, themselves, are not responsible legally for any debts of a decedent including funeral and disposition of remains expenses. Funeral and disposition of remains expenses can reduce the amount that they inherit, but they have no liability if the estate is insolvent. If someone pays for the funeral or burial or cremation of someone with an insolvent probate estate, the decedent's next of kin are not required to reimburse them for that expense (although often they will do so gratuitously).

If someone dies without the means to pay for their own funeral or burial or cremation, and no one donates the funds to do so, and the decedent is not a veteran entitled to a military funeral, most places have arrangements in place to dispose of that person's remains in a pauper's grave in the least expensive means possible. The means by which this happens are not uniform and there is often a mix of public and private financing for this form of charity.

His next of kin lives out of state. Can someone else make the funeral arrangements but still have the next of kin take care of all the legal responsibility?

Most funeral homes will accept credit cards and agreements to pay for a funeral from someone out of state via phone/fax/email, and will allow someone else to make the actual arrangements on their behalf with their permission. Typically, if the funeral home had, for example, a credit card on file authorized to pay for the funeral from someone out of state, they would accept oral authorization by phone from that person to allow someone else to actually handle the arrangements.

  • That answer is quite informative (+1). However, regardless of the decedent's state, I still think that a court could order reimbursement of funeral expenses under some principle of equity unless (1) each next of kin is able to prove estrangement from the decedent, or (2) the person making the arrangements incurred unreasonable expenses. Or are there laws/doctrines categorically preempting a equitable, non-contemplated outcome in a situation like this? – Iñaki Viggers Jun 21 '18 at 11:34
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    @IñakiViggers Absolutely not with respect to (1).That would be pretty much unthinkable. Next of kin do not have any legal duty to a decedent. This principle is almost as strong as the constitutional principle that no crime may cause "corruption of blood". (Incidentally, this is very difficult from civil law countries in continental Europe and Japan and Korea where there have been, historically at least, obligations of descendants for an ancestor's debts.) With respect to (2), the person making arrangements is a fiduciary (an agent) and would have duties that could be breached to the principal. – ohwilleke Jun 21 '18 at 16:33

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