Who Can Call Us? Learning who can Preside Over Funeral Arrangements and Speak to the Funeral Director

Who Can Speak to the Funeral Director?


Recently I had the privilege of speaking at the NYC Bar Association as a faculty member presenting on the topic, “Unexpected Troubles when a Loved One Passes Away”. Being an attorney and funeral director (and not knowing which category was more loved or hated), put me in a unique position to weigh in on the sensitive presentation topic. There are misconceptions and misunderstandings that I frequently detect in meeting with families and for that reason, the availability of information and education are key. Here are some common scenarios we often come across. If any of these sound familiar and perhaps apply to you or those you love, take the time to have these important conversations.


Often, we receive phone calls informing us of a death by the person’s longtime companion. And while there are strong, valid, binding emotional ties that connect the two parties, there is a legal impasse that arises in dealing with the funeral home. Both NY & CT recognize a legal hierarchy of persons or relatives who are authorized to make funeral arrangements and sign off on necessary documents, including and especially, cremation forms. A non-married party does NOT qualify as a spouse for the purposes of arranging a funeral. While we recognize the sensitivity of the issue and certainly the love that existed between two such people, in the absence of a legal document, “The Agent Letter”, the legal order of relationships control. An “agent letter”, therefore, is imperative in situations of non-married parties. WHY? It allows a person to bypass the order of relationships for who can control one’s funeral. For example, if you have a “partner” or someone you cohabitate with, you can designate that person to carry out your final wishes by properly executing the “agent letter”. This legally binding document allows you to spell out your final wishes on paper along with the person you see fit to carry them out. Living together for lengthy periods of time is not alone sufficient to make funeral arrangements on your behalf. So, if you do cohabitate with someone who is not a spouse nor a legally registered partner on a domestic registry, have this conversation and complete the agent form. It is the only protection you can afford them in executing your final wishes.


In the absence of an “agent letter”, a spouse is a legal next of kin. In the absence of a spouse, adult children would be the next authorizing party. A common misconception is that children have legal significance based upon their birth order. In fact, regardless if you are the oldest, youngest, middle, etc, all legal children (biological and adopted), share equal legal rights. In cases where there are multiple children with varying opinions as to what their parents wish for their funeral arrangements, an “agent letter” is key. The person executing the document can state their wishes so there is no room for debate nor ambiguity. In addition, you can designate one of your children or avoid any of your children having the right to control your funeral, by executing the “agent letter”.

These conversations are difficult for so many reasons, primarily, they focus on funerals and a time when we will no longer be here. We know there are loved one’s that one day we will leave behind. Further, if there are feuding family situations, we are forced to face them when perhaps for years it was easier to sweep them under the rug. However, failing to plan properly will result in hardship for the ones you love. By not spelling out your wishes and not delegating to the proper authority, you will create incredible difficulties upon your passing.

The moral of the story….these conversations present temporary discomfort yet long term benefits. Protect the ones that you love and most importantly, protect yourself and your personal wishes. A trusted, knowledgeable funeral professional should be able to advise you on an “agent letter” if you come to make pre-arrangements. If they do not, and you recognize you have a potentially complicated family situation, ask for this document. At Coxe & Graziano, any of our licensed funeral directors can further explain the “agent letter” and its significance. Don’t wait. Make your plans and go on living with the knowledge that all is in order and you’ll leave behind the priceless gift of peace of mind.

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