How can I make sure my funeral wishes are honored?

The question of who controls the disposition of a decedent’s bodily remains is particularly important to people who have a preference for cremation or burial; embalmment, refrigeration or immediate disposition; a top-of-the-line, a moderately priced, or bargain-basement casket or urn; public, private or no services, with or without a religious element; the way or place that ashes should be spread or stored, or the casket interred … to name just a few specific issues about which some people feel strongly. 

My father jokes about not wanting his bodily remains “buried with the worms,” and my mother usually adds that there are still two unused plots in the Worm family section of her hometown cemetery.  (Yes, my mother’s maiden name really is Worm).  In truth, my dad doesn’t care what is done with his bodily remains.  He’s an “ashes-to-ashes” kind of guy, who says my mom can do with his remains whatever she wants to do, when the time comes to make such decisions. 

[I am careful never to disclose anything about a client.  In this one case, my mother and father gave me their blessing to do so.]

For people who do care about issues like the ones mentioned above, Hawaii’s legislature enacted a law several years ago that lets people select a “designated funeral agent,” who will have the power and legal obligation to carry out the decedent’s directions. 

A person’s designated agent can be a non-relative.  Without such a law, it is generally the closest relative(s) who get to decide how to dispose of the decedent’s bodily remains.   

Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett died unexpectedly at the age of forty-five several years ago, shortly before marrying his longtime life-partner/fiancé.  She wanted his ashes, but because Kirby died before the scheduled wedding date, a court gave the ashes to Kirby’s minor children.  What that meant as a practical matter, is that Kirby’s ashes ended up with his ex-wife, who reportedly was the last person on earth Kirby would have wanted to control his bodily remains.

Even people like my dad, who don’t really care what happens to their bodily remains, should keep in mind that funeral decisions usually must be made within days, sometimes hours, of a loved-one’s death—a time when the decision-maker may be at a low point mentally, emotionally, physically and psychologically. 

Some people try to make things easier for surviving loved ones by selecting and maybe even paying for an entire funeral plan while still alive. 

Whoever makes funeral decisions should know that prices can vary considerably, making it important to “shop around.”  Fortunately, a federal law requires that funeral home directors provide an itemized price list of their products and services … but you may need to request it.  This and numerous other consumer tips can be found by goggling “FTC Funeral Rule.”

As always, I must add that this blog does not contain legal advice, and that you should not rely on any of the above information to determine what is in your own best interest.


Mahalo to the ohana of Greg Cameron and photographer Ellisa Farias Cameron for allowing us to use the above photo of his May 2012 service, at Hapuna Beach. 


Do Hawaii’s gun-control laws restrict my ability to pass my firearms to my children when I die?