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Do I have to pay for a funeral I didn't agree to?
January 18, 2009 2:53 AM   Subscribe

My father recently passed away (four weeks ago) and I was contacted today by a funeral home claiming that because I am next of kin, I am required to pay for funeral costs and/or cremation. Am I legally bound to this?

My father lived in Arizona, and I live in New York. Is this a state law or a federal law? I didn't sign or verbally agree to anything, can this be legal? I told them today that I didn't know who they were and if they wanted to conduct business with me, they would have to send me some documentation and legalese indicating my responsibility. Can this really just be a shady company taking advantage of recently grieving families?
posted by idledebonair to Law & Government (16 answers total)
 
Yes, absolutely - a shady company. Outside of marriage partners and minor children, you cannot be held responsible for the debts of others simply because you are next of kin. They may send you some crap, but it won't be worth the paper it's printed on. Don't worry about it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:10 AM on January 18, 2009


Are you the person managing the estate issues?

If your father did not prepay his funeral expenses, then I believe the cost comes out of his estate. So, let's say that you are his only family member, and so you received money from his estate and you handled all the details. Then, it may seem like you are paying for the funeral funeral... but not really, it's his estate that is paying the cost, and you get what remains after his bills are paid.
posted by Houstonian at 3:48 AM on January 18, 2009


Further about the estate, here's an article from a law firm in Arizona addressing these types of issues. It says:

"Paying for the funeral: Although some individuals pre-pay for their funeral and burial, these costs are generally taken from their estate after death. As such, many funeral homes allow some time for the estate to open before collecting payment. In other instances, however, a family member may have to cover the costs of the funeral until estate funds are available for repayment. Similarly, a life insurance policy may cover funeral costs, but coverage is typically not available until after the funeral is over."
posted by Houstonian at 3:55 AM on January 18, 2009


I think it was implicit in the question that there is no estate - that he died without owning anything of value. The answer is a matter of Arizona law, but I think that Dee's answer would fit most if not all states.

He should ask an Arizona attorney to be sure.
posted by megatherium at 4:28 AM on January 18, 2009


Under the old Common Law the next of kin is in fact required to bury or pay for the burying of the deceased. This dates back to an era before modern social structures when the view was that someone had to bury the deceased, and it might as well be the next of kin. Nowadays this rule has been replaced by legislation in most (all?) jurisdictions, and the State generally now has arrangements for burying paupers. In any event, if you were liable it wouldn't be the funeral home dunning you; it would be some official from the government. If you speak to them again just say very slowly and clearly "I decline any liability for these funeral arrangements. I do not consent to any charges." Make a note of when and to whom you said it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:04 AM on January 18, 2009


Here's a PDF [state.az.us] from Arizona detailing some consumer information. It's not really what you need, but it does have quite a few phone numbers you can call to get info on how to get these people to go away.
posted by Science! at 6:44 AM on January 18, 2009


If you speak to them again just say very slowly and clearly "I decline any liability for these funeral arrangements. I do not consent to any charges."

Better yet, get an address and send it to them certified, return receipt requested.
posted by GPF at 8:55 AM on January 18, 2009


"Paying for the funeral: Although some individuals pre-pay for their funeral and burial, these costs are generally taken from their estate after death. As such, many funeral homes allow some time for the estate to open before collecting payment. In other instances, however, a family member may have to cover the costs of the funeral until estate funds are available for repayment. Similarly, a life insurance policy may cover funeral costs, but coverage is typically not available until after the funeral is over."

I think that, implicit in this statement, is the assumption that the family member is someone who is actually invested in the process, i.e., a family member who is trying to get the funeral arranged. I.e., a spouse or child is at the funeral home trying to make the arrangements, and says, "can't the estate cover the funeral," and the answer is, no, you will have to cover it now and be reimbursed since the probate process has not even been begun yet.

I see no feasible way that a funeral home in Arizona could come after an estranged son in New York to make him pay a funeral expense. As someone up above said, that's what paupers' funerals are for.
posted by jayder at 10:32 AM on January 18, 2009


IS this in fact the company that handled arrangements for your father?

Who handled the arrangements for your father's funeral?
posted by gjc at 10:32 AM on January 18, 2009


My father was effectively broke when he died. He had no house, no car, no cash to speak of. He had JUST been accepted onto social security when he passed. As far as I know, funeral arrangements were handled by AHCCCS (The arizona public healthcare system). The family did not bury him or cremate him, in fact, the hospice company, which is the company that the healthcare provided basically told us not to worry about it, and they would take care of the remains. They made it seem that because he was part of an experimental cancer treatment program that they actually needed the remains to study. It was and still is unclear what happened. He died in hospice, and they told us to just tell the front desk when we were ready to leave, which we did, and that was that. This is the first I've heard of anything postmortem.
posted by idledebonair at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2009


I apologize if this is asking the obvious question, but...if the hospice center said that they would take care of the remains, have you contacted them about this issue?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2009


This is almost certainly a scam. If you have the energy, I'd suggest you go so far as to notifiy the appropriate state government office about it.

I'm sorry about your dad.
posted by Good Brain at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2009


If his body was given to science, those people should be the ones to handle the remains.

Nthing scam----I'm sorry that you're being forced to go through this as you're mourning your dad.
posted by brujita at 10:53 PM on January 18, 2009


Interesting an unexpected follow up today: My uncle, my father's brother, received a letter from the "Arizona Public Fiduciary," a seemingly legitimate government organization, that asks him, as next of kin, to pay for burial services. Now, we don't know what to think. Still awaiting more information.
posted by idledebonair at 10:42 PM on January 19, 2009


I would contact this law firm to discuss this.
posted by megatherium at 4:28 AM on January 21, 2009


Sorry to enter the discussion late, but as an aspiring funeral director in Ontario, your story really bothered me.

I googled the rules & regulations for the requirements to have entered into a valid funeral contract (a good bullet list is in this pdf from the Arizona funeral board)

• After death, funeral arrangements must be made and authorized by spouse, next-of-kin,
or other responsible party, even if prepaid.
• If requested, funeral establishments must provide information regarding funeral costs
over the phone.
• State law requires that the funeral establishment provide you with:
— Consumer Guide to Arizona Funerals Information (this brochure)
— General Price List before discussing funeral arrangements.
— Casket Price List before entering a casket selection room (you also may be shown
casket photographs or illustrations). Casket costs are separate from funeral service costs.
— Outer Burial Container Price List before discussing purchase of outer burial containers from the establishment.
• You will be asked at funeral arrangement to sign a contract called a Statement of Funeral
Goods and Service, which lists your selections. Read the contract before signing.
• Contract includes a professional fee and other itemized charges. Total charges vary
widely, so you may wish to compare with other establishments.
• You are entitled to an explanation of each charge on the contract. You may change
your selections before you sign the contract, or you may go elsewhere.

This language is fairly standard across north america and it sounds like none of these standards were met.

In Ontario, a funeral home engaging in this type of shady business practices would not only be unable to legitimately bill anyone for their services, but leave themselves open to civil action.

My suggestion wouls be to follow the complaints proceedure outlined in the brochure I linked and forward copies of all documentation that they send to you to The State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.
posted by cpdavy at 9:04 PM on January 23, 2009


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