Making funeral arrangements is often not an enjoyable process and disputes between family members about the service can make situations worse.
Perhaps the deceased wanted a religious farewell but the family have different opinions? This blog post explains whose decision really matters when it comes to arranging a funeral.
Conflicting funeral wishes
A recent ABC article discussed situations where the wishes of the deceased have conflicted with the wishes of those organising their funeral, often as a result of different religious beliefs. The article discusses a man who had converted to Buddhism and, before he passed, had expressed his wish to have a Buddhist funeral. However, after his passing, his family organised a Catholic service. Similarly, an elderly Catholic man, still alive, expressed dismay that his children, who had not continued the faith, may not provide him with a Catholic funeral.
What if your funeral wishes are not respected once you’ve passed? Alternatively, what if a religious ceremony makes your friends and family uncomfortable when they join together to send you off?
Whose wishes matter when organising a funeral?
A will is a legal document that expresses how you wish your affairs will be handled once you die, such as how your estate will be distributed.
A will can also include your funeral wishes, including how your body is dealt with after death.
The appointed executor of your estate will generally handle the funeral arrangements and therefore, it is recommended you inform them of your funeral wishes during your lifetime.
What if the executor ignores my funeral wishes?
This can happen, and the legal implications around this will change depending on the State you live in and the exact wording of the will. Your lawyer is the best person to advise on these matters.
In South Australia, you can protect your wishes by making directions in your will. A direction in a will is a term that the executor must comply with as opposed to a wish which an executor should simply take into consideration. If your will does not include specific directions then the words are simply an expression of your wishes. Whilst the executor’s job is to carry out the wishes of the deceased, they are not obliged to.
In most cases, an executor is bound to explicitly follow directions made in a will. Only by application to the Supreme Court of South Australia can directions in a will be challenged.
In the absence of any directions, an executor should still respect and honour the deceased in doing their best to acknowledge any wishes noted in the will.
Interfaith funeral ceremonies
Most executors and family members will want to respect the wishes of the deceased. They want to remember their loved one in a way that respects them and in a setting where guests feel comfortable.
The ABC article talks about compromise and the use of interfaith ceremonies as a neutral solution which respects the wishes of all involved. It stresses the importance of informing those close to you of the type of service you want.
Take action to ensure funeral wishes are met
If this blog has triggered an emotional response for you, then you may like to revisit your will or the will of a family member. Only you know what is truly important, and communicating this to a lawyer now, will make life easier for those you leave behind.
This blog post has been written by Law Clerk, Antony Boonen and settled by Senior Associate, Errol Kaplan.