A will outlines a person’s last wishes and is usually focused on their estate. Often, the will does not include what funeral arrangements the deceased had decided on, but it will clearly identify the person who can make decisions for their funeral.
Some decisions are evident in the absence of a will, while others can become complex and even problematic. In the absence of a will, a loved one may assume responsibility for making decisions about their departed’s funeral service. Hopefully, that person will know what the deceased would have preferred, be able to finance the costs and execute those decisions.
However, this process can become complicated when:
- it’s not clear who is in charge (in the absence of a will)
- multiple people want to make final decisions or conflicting arrangements are being requested
- those who are legally entitled, or responsible for, making decisions do not wish to
- when finances are a concern
When decisions cannot be agreed upon, or when power struggles erupt, it can come down to legal statutes to determine who can and shall make the final decisions. For example, when a married person passes without a will, their spouse decides on the arrangements. In the case of a child’s passing, the parents are in charge. If a widowed parent passes, their adult child will make the decisions. Some situations are straightforward, and decision-making is not questioned or disputed.
In every case of a person passing, disagreements can arise. The funeral director’s goal is to help navigate the wishes of those closest to the deceased. A funeral should be a healing experience, honour the departed, and not a time to open old wounds or settle old scores. While every funeral home will try to create a positive experience, respecting every family member involved, they must follow Alberta law, with and without a will.
Alberta law states that the Chain of Command is as follows:
- Personal Representative (Executor/Executrix) named in the will
- Spouse or legal partner (this may include common-law partners)
- Adult child
- Guardian of the deceased
- Adult grandchild
- Adult brother or sister
- Adult nephew or niece
- Adult next of kin
- Public Trustee
- Close friend
For example, if a child dies and the parents are divorced and cannot agree on the burial plans, the law must be followed, but consensus is always the best solution. Likewise, if a person has separated from a spouse and was living with someone new when they pass, and both the past and present “partners” want decision making authority, the legally married spouse may have control. When disputes arise, and the law does not account for complex situations, or people believe the law does not account for their circumstances, the concerned parties may need to go before a judge to rule on who can make decisions. This can be another stressful situation for the loved ones, causing a delay to honouring the deceased.
Given the intense emotions when someone passes, having a will is best. The second best option is planning the funeral service, including deciding on burial or cremation and paying for the service in advance. Having loved the departed, we urge you to follow their last requests, regardless of how you choose to say goodbye to them.
The person in charge of the funeral will receive the Funeral Director’s Statement of Death. This document is for estate matters within Canada that require proof of death, such as turning off the cable or gas, or freezing bank accounts. The funeral director will usually provide multiple copies for matters that require documentation. This document does not affect how the departed’s estate is settled.
A Province of Alberta Death Certificate can be requested but may take several weeks to be received. This document is somewhat like a Birth Certificate for the end of life. A Provincial Death Certificate will be required when estate matters exist outside Canada. But, again, it does not impact how an estate is settled.
The third type of documentation is the Medical Examiner’s Certificate or a Doctor’s Certificate of Death; this is not routinely provided nor used in settling affairs but may be requested under particular circumstances, such as by an insurance company.
If you have any questions about rights and responsibilities following death without a will, contact us at Country Hill Crematorium. We can help you navigate the complexities of making funeral decisions without a will and have extensive experience facilitating decision-making for families. Contact us if we can be of help.