Although the family often makes the funeral arrangements at the time of death, it is the executor who has the legal obligation to do so. These arrangements must be reasonable and in keeping with the deceased’s position in life and the size of estate. The funeral expenses are borne by the estate and are paid before any other debts.
Since the executor has the authority to make all the decisions until the body, or ashes, have been buried or otherwise disposed of, he or she can, if necessary, override the family’s wishes and/or disregard any funeral instructions in the Will. The family must, however, be kept informed of all the decisions made.
This is really a two-part process: one part deals with the deceased person in the form of a ceremony, and the other part with the actual disposition of the body.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the decisions that you, as the executor, might have to make.
The disposition of remains is a choice between burial and cremation. Embalming is not legally required in Canada but provincial legislation will apply in certain circumstances (e.g., if the body is to be transported over a long distance). Check airline requirements if transporting ashes.
Direct cremation – no visitation or service. This is probably the least expensive option. Decisions will need to be made regarding who will receive the ashes and/or where the disposition will be – crypt, columbarium, cemetery or otherwise.
Direct burial – no visitation or service. Costs are for the cemetery plot, embalming (optional) and casket. Green or natural burial does not involve embalming and the body is placed in a shroud or casket before being buried. There are currently only four natural burial grounds in Canada.
For the ceremony there are several choices for the venue – at home, at a place of worship, at a funeral home or anywhere else that may be appropriate and several choices for how to pay tribute – funeral, memorial or celebration, or any combination of these.
At-home funeral – the family prepares the body for the funeral and makes all other arrangements directly with a cemetery or crematorium. The family will usually also look after obtaining all the required paperwork including the body-transfer permit and burial permit.
Graveside service – the entire gathering and funeral occur at the cemetery.
Traditional funeral – can be the grandest, and most expensive, option. Decisions will need to be made regarding such things as closed or open casket, viewing and visitation, procession to burial site or crematorium, and any ceremony before body is laid to rest or cremated.
Memorial/Celebration of Life – can take place at almost any venue at any time. Can occur after direct cremation or burial or in combination with any of the other services mentioned.
Because there are so many choices, and so many opinions about what the deceased would have been wanted versus what the family might want, it is important that you, as executor, speak with the testator about how he or she envisions their last hurrah and whether or not it has been prearranged and/or prepaid.