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Michigan Law Still Fails to Guarantee Individuals Assurance Regarding Dispositon of Bodies After Death

MPLP Summer 2007 Elder Law Section Newsletter Article

Issue 34, Summer 2007

Michigan Law Still Fails to Guarantee Individuals Assurance That Their Wishes Regarding the  Disposition of their Bodies Will Be Honored After Death

 

Older clients are frequently concerned that their wishes regarding the disposition of their bodies be honored after their deaths.  While changes in state law last year clarify who can make decisions regarding funeral arrangements and disposition of bodies, the law does not guarantee individuals that their own plans will be implemented. MCL 700.3206  creates an order of priority  regarding who may make decisions about funeral arrangements and the handling, disposition, or disinterment of a decedent’s body, including decisions about cremation and the right to possess the cremated remains of the decedent. Surviving spouses have highest priority, followed by other adult family members with priority under MCL 700.2103 and the closest degree of consanguity. If those individuals do not exercise their rights or cannot be located after a good faith effort, a personal representative, nominated personal representative, guardian, or certain public officials are authorized to make decisions regarding funeral and burial arrangements.

 

If there is disagreement among family members with equal priority to make decisions for the decedent, or if family members cannot be located, MCL 700.3207 authorizes family members or the funeral establishment to petition the court for an order to establish who has authority to make decisions.  Venue is proper in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of his or her death.  In deciding the matter, the court is to take into account:

 

a) The reasonableness and practicality of the funeral arrangements or the handling or disposition of the body proposed by the person bringing the action in comparison with the funeral arrangements or the handling or disposition of the body proposed by 1 or more individuals with the rights and powers under section 3206(1).

 

(b) The nature of the personal relationship to the deceased of the person bringing the action compared to other individuals with the rights and powers under section 3206(1).

 

(c) Whether the person bringing the action is ready, willing, and able to pay the costs of the funeral arrangements or the handling or disposition of the body.

 

MCL 700.3207(5). 

 

The fact that individuals are not guaranteed a right to make their own funeral arrangements may be due to funeral directors’ concerns about liability if they honor one family member’s wishes while ignoring another’s.  MCL 700.3209 protects funeral directors from civil liability if they proceed in good faith in  compliance with the law.




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