Authorization for cremation?
March 25, 2013 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Can signing an 'Authorization For Cremation' form somehow make me responsible for my deceased father's debt?

My father died on March 19th. I was informed on Friday night by my step-sister who has been his caregiver for the last 10 years. Just so I do not sound like a cold-hearted bastard, here's a little background info. My father left us (me and my younger brother) when I was three. He never paid one cent of child support, never reached out to us in any way and basically flew under the radar for the last 47 years of my life. I did track him down back in 1982 and made a phone call. I might as well have been ordering a pizza with the amount of emotion he showed. I was put in touch with him again in 2008. I called him and basically got the same response. I had very low expectations and those were met. Needless to say, I could really give a shit less about him dying on a personal level. He died 47 years ago as far as I'm concerned. That said, I do feel for my step-sister who has done all she could to make his last years bearable by providing housing, food, transportation, nursing care and whatever else was needed. They paid for his cremation as well. When I spoke to her on the phone, she asked if I would be willing to sign off on the authorization form as I am the next of kin (OH REALLY NOW?). Being the swell guy I am, I told her to have the mortuary call me and fax the forms over so I could look at them. I have them on my desk now.

My fear? I sign the forms and suddenly, out of the wood-work, I get debt collectors all up in my shit for his debt. I understand this may sound irrational but I've read too many horror stories. Also, how would I, the son he stiffed for 47 years, suddenly be the point man for his cremation? He's had fuck-all to do with our lives and suddenly my signature is needed? I am torn as well because, as big of an asshole as he was, it doesn't feel right to me, to leave his ashes in limbo.

Am I making too big a deal out of this? I welcome any experiences or insight you may have. I'm certainly not seeking free legal advice. Thanks.
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Law & Government (15 answers total)
You are not responsible for his debt.

The estate pays for the debt, and any debt that the estate doesn't cover is wiped clean. Which isn't to say that they won't call you, but you don't have to pay anyone anything.
posted by empath at 9:23 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Empath. I guess I already figured that yeah, inevitably I could tell all the debt collectors to piss off. The bigger issue is that I am going through a Chapter 7 myself and do not have the energy to even be dealing with that let alone my estranged father's financial baggage. Your quick and succinct response gives me a little more comfort however.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:29 PM on March 25, 2013

Plus next of kin is next of kin, no matter whether you were close or estranged. The admin people don't know and don't care.

It also may be some cause of stress to your step-sister if she was unable to sign and she may very well want to do something with his ashes.

Plese do keep her informed that you are going to sign and arrange to get the ashes to her.
posted by Youremyworld at 9:36 PM on March 25, 2013

His death cancels his debts - or at least my mother's death canceled hers. Sometimes I had to show a death certificate, sometimes a copy was enough, sometimes just my word was enough. Your father's creditors aren't interested in giving *you* a hard time.
posted by melesana at 9:38 PM on March 25, 2013

The mortuary need your signature because to cover their own ass, lest they cremate the body and then the family turn around and sue them. If you are next of kin, that just means that you're legally the closest relation, nothing more. Read what you sign and then just forget about it.
posted by skewed at 9:41 PM on March 25, 2013

Best answer: I'm so sorry for how difficult this is for you, Kevin. If it helps, that request is normal. The funeral home director explained to me when my father was cremated last year that it was solely to cover their liability, as skewed says. I just looked at it again and that's basically all it says.

In the state in which my form was completed it goes in this order for who has to sign, and looking at other states' forms it looks similar, but I am not a funeral home official:
Person designated in the will
Surviving spouse/domestic partner
Adult children
Other people in the line of descent/inheritance
Executors or agents of the estate
Public officials

empath is right about the debt piece. I couldn't find information on whether the cremation authorization is a public record of the type that debt collectors file against, but skip tracing credit companies would find you anyway as a relative. I get calls for my sister on occasion from credit companies through that method.

If he has lived with your step-sister for all these years the debt collectors will probably pick up on that and call her instead of you, but you might have to field some calls. Just get the name of the executor of your father's estate from her and provide any callers that number.
posted by winna at 9:53 PM on March 25, 2013

Best answer: If your dad had a will, his legal representative (Executor) can sign the consent form in place of the next-of-kin. I just found a random cremation company online, and they claim that in the absence of a will, all the next-of-kin who are at the same level have to provide written permission (i.e. all the adult children if the decedent doesn't have a surviving spouse; all the siblings if the decedent doesn't have a surviving spouse or kids).

Of course you can't be held responsible for your dad's debt - that's what the estate is for - but I don't think you'll get your dad's debt collectors just from doing this, because how would your contact information go from the form to his credit record? The notification of death to the credit agencies usually comes from either the legal representative or the Social Security Administration, neither of which is going to sell you out.
posted by gingerest at 9:59 PM on March 25, 2013

It would still be worth looking carefully at the authorization paperwork, and doing some more looking around, to make sure that authorizing cremation in $STATE doesn't mean you're accepting financial responsibility for the cremation in the event that your step-relations' check comes back NSF, or they ultimately refuse to pay, etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:30 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You say your step-sister has paid for the cremation, so it's probably not an issue, but authorizing a facility to conduct a cremation may very well be an explicit or an implied agreement to pay for the service. Read the document carefully. You may even wish to write words to the effect that you are not agreeing to make any payment on the document.
posted by uncaken at 10:33 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You are not liable for your father's debt.

If/when bill collectors come calling, they can file a claim against the Estate, within a certain time frame. If the Estate runs out of funds before they get to their claim, or if they submit a claim too late, they're SOL. Consequently, debt collectors may turn into assholes because of this, and say things like 'you're liable', etc.

When my mom died, she had a lot of debt and a lot of assets. Paying for an Estate Lawyer was the best decision I made in this situation. I never had to deal with any bill collections calls at all. If possible, I'd recommend the same.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:41 PM on March 25, 2013

It might be worth asking what exactly will occur if you decline to sign, if you haven't done that already.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:50 PM on March 25, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, those are all some great answers and I feel much better and/or confident in my decision. Thank you for the kind words and as always, the great advice.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:43 PM on March 25, 2013

Oh, I forgot to say: my condolences, and I'm sorry that he's gone if only because it means he can never make it up to you.
posted by gingerest at 12:04 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

So sorry to hear you're going through this, it sounds like he's churned up a lot of feelings.

Signing that authorization for cremation is only that, an authorization for cremation: the deceased's estate is responsible for their debts, not their next of kin.

The only thing I suggest you watch out for is, make sure that that cremation authorization is the ONLY thing in that paperwork. It's unlikely your stepsister would try to sneak something else into the pile of forms, like an agreement that you'd serve as executor, but I'm a suspicious cuss and I worry about that kind of thing. But even if you DID agree to be your father's executor, all that you would be accepting is the paperwork and hassle of closing the estate: you yourself would NOT be liable for any of his debts that weren't covered by his estate.
posted by easily confused at 2:33 AM on March 26, 2013

Be aware that unscrupulous debt collectors (which is most of them) may ask you or your sister to pay debts your father owed. This has nothing to do with the cremation order, just a general observation. As others have said, upon death the person's estate becomes the only recourse for any debts (unless there was a co-signer when the debt was originally made). The executor is to liquidate the estate, that is, sell the assets, then pay any debts as far as the money will go. IANAL, but I'd assume any beneficiaries of the will fall in line behind the secured debts.

Debt collectors will still call family members and say "I know your father would want this bill to be taken care of..." Tell them to pound sand, to call the executor if that's not you, and to not call back. Feel free to laugh and say they must not have known your father too well.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:11 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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