August 1, 2011 | by Attorney Jennifer Taddeo:

The goal of estate planning, for most people, is to arrange their affairs in a way that will benefit their families, and allow their family to flourish after their death.  Most of us are not contemplating our loved ones fighting over where and how our body is laid to rest.  Sadly, this does happen, and can continue for years after a death, as illustrated by a recent piece on National Public Radio and, as many of us remember, the very public family disagreements following Red Sox legend Ted Williams’ passing.

In Massachusetts, a person’s “next of kin” has the right to dispose of his or her remains.  This means that a spouse – even an estranged spouse – will have this control.  If there is no surviving spouse, adult children, collectively, will have this right.  The control then moves to parents, siblings, and continues on, perhaps to distant relatives if there are no close surviving relatives.

If it is important that your funeral be conducted in a particular way, or if you don’t trust the person who would have a legal right to plan your funeral, you should consult a local trusted funeral home.  Through this consultation, you can pre-plan your funeral, or even enter into a pre-paid funeral contract.  A funeral director is obligated to carry out the terms of a pre-paid funeral contract, thus eliminating confusion or disagreement about your plans.  Additionally, a pre-paid funeral contract is not considered a countable asset for MassHealth qualification purposes, and so this is often a good way to spend-down assets in preparation for a MassHealth application.

However, even without taking the step of pre-paying for your funeral, the pre-planning process can allow you to clarify your wishes, document them and communicate your wishes with your family.  While not legally binding, this conversation can bring all of the next of kin to an understanding and eliminate the type of fights that have landed other families in the news.

Massachusetts estate planning attorney, Jennifer Taddeo represents clients throughout Massachusetts and in every county of Massachusetts including Norfolk County, Suffolk County, Worcester County, Bristol County, Middlesex County, Plymouth County, Hamden County, Essex County and Barnstable County. Our estate planning lawyers represent clients in Massachusetts’ largest communities including the cities of Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Cambridge, Brockton, New Bedford, Fall River, Lynn, and Quincy.