The answer is “sort of.” How’s that for an attorney’s response? I say that because you can’t really control anything from the grave. The best that you can do is try to pre-plan.
There are a couple of things that you can do. The first is to actually do a pre-plan or a pre-need, as they call it in the funeral business. This means you actually go to a funeral home, tell them what you want, and pay for it. You tell them everything from what kind of casket you want (or don’t want) to how many limos there should be.
Now that doesn’t mean that when the time comes, someone can’t add to what you planned, but it’s unlikely. Anyone doing that would have to pay out of his or her own pocket and not the estate. And if you make the plan irrevocable, they don’t get the money back if they try to cheap out and downgrade.
The pre-plan is good for pretty much any funeral home in the state. Even though you go to a particular one to make the arrangements, it’s easily transferable to another since the money is actually held by a trust company, not the individual home.
Another thing that you can do to preplan is to talk to the person who will probably be in charge of taking care of your last remains. Tell them what you want or don’t want. Some people want their funeral to be lavish with a big send-off whereas others want to keep it quiet and simple.
As far as who is truly in charge, funeral homes have a pecking order of who they listen to for instructions. The spouse is first, followed by children and then siblings. The problem comes in as to the order within a particular class of people (for example, the decedent’s four children). I once asked a funeral director who they listen to within a class and the basic answer was, “he who yells the loudest” because it really doesn’t matter to them at that point.
He who holds the purse strings is irrelevant. I was told of a situation in which a childless widow died and had appointed her nephew (an attorney) as the executor. He was asked to leave the funeral director’s office as the decedent’s siblings decided on the arrangements. The nephew was there only to write the check, not make any decisions on the arrangements.
If you think you may be in a situation where your children or siblings will not agree on the arrangements, there is something else you can do. In New York you can legally appoint an agent who will control the disposition of your remains. You can even find a form for it on the NYS Department of Health website.
You can appoint anyone you want. It can be one of your children or someone outside the family. And you can appoint a successor to the agent. The important thing is that you talk to your agent and make sure that he or she knows your wishes. The agent can even work with a pre-plan arrangement that you’ve done with a funeral home. Again, just make sure your agent knows about it.
The bottom line is that you need to discuss your wishes with the people who will be there to make the decisions. After that, the only thing you can do is hope they will actually abide by your wishes.