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Your Funeral Arrangements…

. . . will not be made by your estranged spouse now that a bill has also been passed by the Michigan House of Representatives (the Michigan Senate passed it on February 14, 2017).

The new law, approved by the Michigan House on March 9, 2017, clarifies precisely who is not a “surviving spouse.” If you have not made your arrangements in advance, a surviving spouse has first priority to decide and determine those arrangements including the disposition of your body (cremation, interment, etc.). Under the new law, the following people are excluded from the definition of “surviving spouse:”

  • An estranged spouse, defined as one who has, for 12 months or more:
    • Been “willfully absent from,” or
    • “Deserted” the decedent; or
    • “Willfully neglected or refused to provide support for the decedent spouse if required to do so by law.”
  • Almost Divorced: a spouse who consented to a divorce decree that either was not entered before your death or was determined to be invalid after it was entered.
  • Bigamist: “An individual who, at the time of the decedent’s death, is living in a bigamous relationship with another individual.” (There must have been at least one instance of this, for it to be on the list, but . . . really?!?!)

Last year, a Michigan law was enacted which allows you, in your Last Will & Testament or other advance directive, to name a “Funeral Representative” and give that person authority to make cremation, interment, and related decisions about the disposition of your body and cremains. If you designate a Funeral Representative, that person has priority even over your surviving spouse and your children to make those decisions. The order of priority goes like this:

  1. A designated funeral representative
  2. Your surviving spouse
  3. An adult (18+ years) in the following order of priority:
  4. Your children
  5. Your grandchildren
  6. Your parents
  7. Your grandparents
  8. Your siblings
  9. Other extended family members (cousins, etc.)

So, if the person you want making funeral and disposition decisions for your body is not the first on that list, you should complete a directive to name your funeral representative. Some funeral directors have a form that you can use to designate your agent or it could be made in a power of attorney, health care directive, or your will. However you do it and whoever you choose to name, keep in mind that none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow . . .

The only person with higher priority is the designated funeral arranger for an active service member who died in the line of duty. In that case, anyone designated under federal statutes or the Department of Defense has prime authority.

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