Often, it is hard for one person to make a decision for a funeral, and even harder for a group decision to be reached.  Your family may find it helpful to have some brief discussions about what you want in a funeral:  viewing, no viewing; type of casket; burial or cremation; services at church or funeral home.  Armed with these decisions, you may be able to move forward more easily.  It makes sense to have the big decisions made before you go to the funeral home, so you are not there arguing about what needs to be done.

Do all siblings (or legal next of kin) have to agree on arrangements being made for a parent who does not have a living spouse? What about cremation?

If there is a surviving spouse, that spouse has the right to make all final decisions.  If there is no surviving spouse, the majority of surviving children rule in decision making.  If there is no spouse and no children, decision making may revert to siblings or grandchildren over the age of 18.  This is especially important for cremation, when the majority of surviving children will have to sign for the cremation in the absence of a surviving spouse.

Some members of our family are not on speaking terms. Can a funeral director help facilitate our discussion and decision-making?

If the family group really can’t make any decisions, you may want to enlist the help of a neutral third party.  In rare instances, families end up in court, but please don’t let this be you!  Sometimes, the funeral director may agree to be that neutral 3rd party.  Remember that everyone cannot have things 100% their way, but with thoughtfulness and care for one another, all needs of the family can usually be met.  The old saying, ‘we can agree to disagree’ is true.  Everyone’s opinions are valid and should be considered.

What is the best thing to do when a discussion becomes heated or there is a disagreement?

If discussions really become heated, take a time out, and think about the life of your departed loved one.  How would they best want to be remembered?  How can family members work together to give the deceased the best possible services? How can you best honor your loved one?

What happens if we are unable to reach a family member (a sibling, for example) who would have a say in making arrangements or that person refuses to return our calls?

If you cannot reach a person whose input is pivotal to the funeral, there may be laws in a particular state for someone else to step forward to assume control of the services.  Your funeral service professional can be helpful in reaching out to ‘missing’ or non-responsive family members.  Check with your funeral service professional who will have good suggestions and answers for you for unusual issues.  You may also want to have a 3rd party call the missing person who may not be reaching out because they have hurt feelings, may not want to expend funds for services, or have a myriad of other reasons for not participating.  As a last resort, send a text or email with factual information and no judgement which may help to ease tensions. (“Hello Stu:  We wanted to let you know our brother Sid’s services are scheduled for Monday at 11 at Pine Funeral Home.  You can contact me, or visit their website for more information. We certainly hope you will be able to attend.”)