Case Study: Legal Battle Over Funeral Costs

Case Studies

Julie* was sued for $14,000 by a funeral home for the costs of her mother’s funeral and burial. When Julie first met with the funeral home to make arrangements and sign a contract, she was both grieving her mother’s death and fighting with her siblings over her mother’s estate and home.

As we discussed in a previous case study, Julie’s mother’s Last Will and Testament named deceased executors and was so outdated, it no longer complied with New Jersey’s probate laws. When she signed the funeral home contract, Julie was in a dispute with her siblings over their mother’s estate. She assumed it would end soon, allowing her mother’s home to be sold so she could use the proceeds to pay the funeral and burial costs.

Unfortunately, the financial obligations Julie was assuming by signing the contract weren’t clear. Also unfortunately, Julie failed to respond to the funeral home’s complaint against her. A judgement was entered against Julie ordering her to pay the funeral home the amount of the debt owed — $14,000.

Advanced Planning and Funeral Home Contracts

A funeral home contract is a typical, formal written agreement between two parties. However, these agreements are often being made under difficult circumstances. When someone dies without pre-arranged funeral and burial plans, their loved ones are left to make guesses about wishes and shoulder the expense. These decisions are being made against the backdrop of grief and loss. Next of kin may also disagree about funeral and burial plans, leading to more stress and frustration.

Pre-planning — and pre-paying — for funerals and burials offers several important benefits:

  • Personal Wishes: Pre-planning allows individuals to express their personal wishes for their funeral and burial. It ensures that their preferences regarding the type of service, disposition of remains, music, readings or any other specific details are known and honored.
  • Alleviate Emotional Burden: Pre-planning relieves loved ones of the emotional burden of making difficult decisions during a time of grief and mourning.
  • Financial Considerations: By pre-paying or setting aside funds for funeral and burial costs, individuals can alleviate the financial burden on their family and ensure that their wishes are carried out without financial strain.
  • Peace of Mind: Knowing that their funeral and burial plans are in place can bring peace of mind to individuals. It offers a sense of control and allows them to focus on other aspects of their lives.
  • Relieving Family Conflict: Funeral and burial arrangements can sometimes lead to disagreements among family members who may have differing opinions on how to proceed. By making their own pre-arrangements, individuals can help prevent potential conflicts and ensure that their wishes are respected.
  • Flexibility and Time for Research: Pre-planning allows individuals to research and explore different options, such as burial or cremation, types of services, cemetery plots or funeral homes. They can take the time to make informed decisions and select the options that align with their values and beliefs.
  • Relieving Administrative Burden: By organizing and documenting important information, such as legal documents, contact lists and preferences, individuals can make it easier for their family members to handle the necessary paperwork and arrangements.

It’s important to note that pre-planning should be done in conjunction with open communication with loved ones. While funeral and burial pre-planning can provide guidance, it’s crucial to discuss these arrangements with family members to ensure that everyone is aware of the individual’s wishes.

Julie’s Case

Luckily, we were able to negotiate with the funeral home to wait until the estate is settled so the outstanding bill can be paid from the estate assets and not Julie’s personal assets. Once the debt is settled by the estate, the judgment against Julie will be set aside.

Pre-planning funeral and burial arrangements is just one way that people can minimize issues after their death. Working with an experienced attorney is helpful when faced with contracts of any kind, including those with funeral homes. The attorneys at Tim Rice Elder and Estate Law Firm are here to assist with both planning and any disputes that may arise regarding end-of-life decisions. Let us know how we can help!

Estate Planning, funeral home contracts, Funeral homes, pre-planning burial, pre-planning funeral, Will

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