How To Deal With Disagreements Over Funeral Arrangements


Disagreement at a funeral

We all have disagreements with our family members. These can be compounded and are harder to deal with when a major tragedy like death and planning a funeral is involved. 

Dealing with these types of family squabbles can be tricky, but with some patience and planning, it can be achieved. 

The key to dealing with disagreements when making funeral arrangements is to be patient and listen to everyone. These disagreements often come from issues that have nothing to do with the actual funeral. These issues could have been brought up because everyone is grieving and in an emotional state. 

Whether the deceased had a will or not can solve a lot of issues, but usually not all. In many cases, they may only have left behind a “letter of wishes”. 

There are many ways to start planning a fitting funeral free from arguments, but looking into if the deceased has written either a will or letter of final wishes is your first obvious step. 

What happens when you don’t have this option or it doesn’t solve the issue you’re having, well that’s the topic of this article!

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Preplan

For your own funeral

By having a record of your final wishes can save a lot of hassles and heartaches for all.  When planning a funeral you can make over 100 decisions just for the funeral. You do not want to have your family members arguing over minutia when they should be grieving and starting the healing process. 

By talking with someone and having a Will or executor who knows your wishes and will follow through on them, would be the best scenario for everyone. You can also pay for everything ahead of time so you don’t leave behind a financial burden as well.  Having a Will is better than just a letter of wishes as well. 

For someone else’s funeral

When planning for someone else’s funeral where you sense there will be trouble you should also plan ahead. Often this is difficult before death as it’s not a subject which is pleasant to talk about. Nevertheless, if you have elderly parents or a terminally sick relative then you may just need to bite the bullet and help them clarify their wishes.

If planning a funeral for an unexpected death, then you should certainly talk things out with a trusted friend or spouse and identify possible issues ahead of time. If you know a certain family member can be difficult, take steps early on to mitigate the likely problems you already know will arise.

Will Vs Letter of Wishes

A Will is a legal document that has been witnessed and notarized or certified by a state or federal authority.  A letter of wishes is what the person wanted to have done for there funeral.

Both of these are technically not legally binding documents that people (even the executor) have to follow for the funeral arrangements. They both do make sure the funeral arrangements that you wanted are at least known about.

The major difference between the two is that with a Will, it usually has an executor.  Who is responsible for executing and hopefully following the wishes of the departed. Whereas the letter of wishes cannot legally put someone in charge of it. When this happens, it is often left up to the family. 

If you are unsure of the legal rights you have over planning another person’s funeral or even choosing your own executor, I advise you speak to your own attorney or seek out the guidance of a professional funeral director.

Some Common Areas  of Disagreement 

The last thing you want to do is think of how you may disagree with your relatives.  But by having written these points down, you can have a thought out plan to bring to the table.

Some of these topics can be very sensitive, but if you do a little research beforehand it can make the conversations easier between you and your relatives. 

Budget- This tends to be where most disagreements start. Try to set a budget from the start and this can guide the whole process.  If the deceased has left any money behind, especially for the funeral, you can start there. 

If money is really an issue, then you can save money by asking the right question and perhaps spending less on the casket. Check out my article on what questions to ask a funeral director for a better deal and another article on cheaper burial options.

Burial or Cremation– Depending on the wishes of the departed and their religious affiliations, this is another common point of contention.  Of course, this also comes down to price and there are some surprising ways to save money here. Looking to the option of a casketless cremation (see my article) or even renting a casket instead of buying it (here is my article on the topic).

Grave/Plot– Different cemeteries have different fees and regulations. Sometimes it’s not possible to follow the wishes of the deceased or those of the mourners.

The type of casket and headstones are also things that you should think about.  There are many options for urns, graves, markers, etc. and this needs to be discussed. I’ve written a detailed article on the best material for a headstone to get the best deal, you can read it here.

Location– Where will the service and funeral take place? Many want to have their loved one near them after they depart. If the families are scattered in different places this can be more difficult. 

Time– When will the funeral be held? A lot of people have to work during the week and it is not feasible to take time off. Others may have to travel from overseas to get there. What time of the day is also something to consider. 

Memorial Services- Some people expect the funeral home to be covered in flowers, while others may want the money donated to a charity.  Where will the cards be sent to? Who will carry the casket? These are all things to remember when discussing this with your family. 

Get a Funeral Director 

This could be one way to facilitate and ease the burden before you even have a disagreement. The funeral director knows what they are doing and can guide you through this process.

You can look at them as a mediator of sorts. It may be a little more costly, depending on everyone’s situation. But, it will pay off with a piece of mind that it is getting done and you do not have to engage with your relatives over issues that are sensitive. 

Ways to Deal or Prevent Disagreements

Have a plan and keep to it

Have a plan and stick to it. Even if your family gets along this could expedite things and help you focus on the issues at hand. Know the topics that you are going to talk about or ones that may be an issue. The list above may help.  The faster you get through the planning the easier and more time you have to grieve and heal. 

Time/Place

Choosing when and where have this discussion can be just as important as you talk about.  A neutral place may be better than at one’s home or even the deceased place, these places can bring up memories and may cloud judgment and discussions. The morning is also a better time to have the meeting, in the afternoon people tend to be more lethargic or drained and this may lead to disagreements. 

Trigger Topics

Many times when dealing with disagreements it is not the topic at hand that is the issue.  It is usually something else that the other person is still angry or resentful over.

So, try to know what these hot-button topics are and stay away from them. During the passing of a loved one, it may not be the best time to try and discuss these things.  Your tone of voice can even be a trigger, keeping a calm tone will let everyone be at ease. 

Patience

This does not just mean listening to the person. You have to try to keep the conversation on the funeral arrangements. You may feel attacked and teamed upon at times, but by not lashing or returning a rude remark you are keeping the conversation moving.

This is very difficult and since everyone is grieving, even harder.  By being non-judgemental and patient the others will pick up on this and hopefully calm down. 

Compromise

Pick and choose your battles. Something that means a lot to you may not mean as much to the other family member. You will not agree on all the decisions that are made, and that is ok.

You want this to bring your family together not split them apart. If things cannot be worked out you may have to bring in lawyers and the court. This could be determinantal to your family’s relationships.  Keep an open mind, you are not the only one grieving. 

Share Responsibilities

One way to avoid and deal with disagreements is to split up the jobs.  You can have each family member take one part of the funeral. These parts tend to be the smaller ones after you agree on the bigger details.

For example,  you all choose the headstone’s epitaph, one person can be in charge of getting that done and choosing the material. Giving these responsibilities and letting people feel that they have some say in what is happening even it is small accounts for a lot. 

Stay Positive/ Be strong

This could be the hardest thing to do. You are in a trying time and so is everyone else. The person that has gone on would want you to be happy a remember them. This is a time to remember and celebrate the deceased not to fight. Try to set aside the differences, the old family feuds and stay positive. The reason you all came together is to say goodbye to your family member or friend.

Have a Stress Reliever

This could be anything from a walk in the park to going to the library to read.  Try something new, a lot of people have found meditation to be helpful this time. This also can give you time to reflect on your loved one and find what is meaningful to you.

Having a hobby can really relieve stress.  It is a great way to take a break from the planning and come back with a cooler head. 

Acceptance

When all of this fails, remember that you and your loved ones are going through a tragic loss, so a certain amount of acting out is understandable. Even if a certain person is likely to ruin the mood, they are entitled to experience their grief in the best way they see fit.

Try to change and control what you can, but the rest you just need to accept is not something you can influence, so it’s better to put it out of your mind and move on.

What happens when a family can’t agree on funeral arrangements?

If the spouse and/or close family cannot agree on the arrangements, it may have to go to court.  The courts usually choose the closest relative to deal with funeral arrangements. There are already some clear laws on similar topics such as who has the right to the remains after cremation if you are interested in finding out more see my article here.

Who pays for the funeral?  

The person who signs the contract with the funeral home is the one legally responsible to pay for fees accumulated for that service. 

What should I put in my Will/Letter of Wishes? 

I strongly advise that you consult a trained attorney here, but this is my own advice.

Somethings to include would be: who is responsible for arrangements. Do you want to be buried or cremated? What type of container you would like to be placed in.  The location of services. What is the budget for the funeral and where the funds will come from? What you want to be done with your organs. 

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