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Can my family change a written directive about cremation?


We received a question about a written directive with cremation wishes:

 I would like to know if I have a written directive on file at a funeral home stating I want to be cremated, can my family change that after my death?

Good question - there are many that want to ensure their final wishes are carried out - including their wishes for burial or cremation.

According to Minnesota cremation law:

"The person or persons otherwise entitled to control the final disposition under this chapter shall faithfully carry out the reasonable and otherwise lawful directions of the decedent to the extent that the decedent has provided resources for the purpose of carrying out the directions."

This law would apply to your cremation wishes, also. Given this, to ensure you have your cremation directions carried out:

1) You need to state what your cremation wishes are and put those wishes in writing

One of the best ways to provide the "lawful direction" for your cremation wishes is to create a written directive stating that you want a cremation.

There is no required form for stating your cremation direction in Minnesota.You can use whatever written form you like, such as a plain piece of paper or your will. A good step would be to use Minnesota's Advanced Directive where you can state your end-of-life medical treatment and your cremation wishes in one place. See http://www.caringinfo.org/files/public/ad/Minnesota.pdf for a copy of a directive. 

Whatever written form you use, it is best if it is:

  • Dated
  • Witnessed by two people OR notarized

For, if there are multiple directives available, the signed, dated directive will take preference over unsigned copies.

2) Specify who you want to carry out your wishes

According to Minnesota state law, "No crematory shall cremate or cause to be cremated any dead human body or identifiable body part without receiving written authorization to do so from the person or persons who have the legal right to control disposition".

And, "the person or persons who have the legal right to control disposition" are the ones you specify in a written directive. However, if you do not identify someone in a directive, the person or persons responsible for carrying out your cremation wishes will be your "next of kin", as specified in https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=149A.80

If these people cannot agree on a cremation, the majority rules. If there is no majority, then they will need to go to court. See: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=149A.80 for more information.

So, if you want your cremation wishes carried out, it is of utmost importance to specify in a written document a person or persons you trust and who will be available as the final arbiter of your funeral/cremation wishes. And, be sure that they have a copy of the directive, and know where the original directive is kept.

2) Make your cremation wishes specific

You don't have to go far to find stories of families torn apart or going to court over disputes about how the ashes should be handled. For example, there was a major family dispute about how to handle Minnesota's baseball Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett's cremation ashes

So, the more specific you are, the better chance your wishes will be carried out. Consider, for example, adding details to your written document such as:

  • Who your ashes should go to and whether the ashes should be divided so the ashes can go to multiple people
  • Whether the ashes should be placed in an urn or scattered
  • If you want your ashes in an urn, where they should be interred. For example, should they be interred at a specific cemetery or mausoleum?
  • If you want your ashes scattered, note the specific place you want your ashes scattered, such as at a cemetery, or in the sea, or a specific, favorite location.

3) People need to know about your written directive

If your directive is not known, it can't be followed. Beyond the person you select to carry out your wishes, it is best if you tell as many people as possible about your wishes, your written directive, where they can get a copy of that directive, and where the original directive is stored. That way, you can ensure that in the event of your death, there is someone around to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Also - keep a list of all those who have your directive so, if you make any changes, you can give these people an updated copy of your directive.

Having a copy on file at the funeral home of your choice is a very good method of storing your directive so the funeral home knows the direction to take and can take needed actions as soon as possible.

Hopefully, we have answered your question. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact Gill Brothers or call us at 952-926-3077.

Gill Brothers Pre-Planning Service

Ensure your Cremation Wishes are Followed

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Call Gill Brothers today at 612-861-6088 or contact us for pre-planning advice.

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