Obituaries, Funerals, and Grave Markers
The death of Larry Frazer has been in the news this past week. His memorial had been booked for September 29th at the St. Patrick Parish Centre hall, when the family received a phone call indicating that the Church had cancelled the booking on the basis of the late Mr. Frazer’s obituary photograph, which depicted him wearing a t-shirt sporting the title of the popular TV series “Sons of Anarchy“. The show is about the criminal exploits of a fictitious biker gang. The decision was apparently made by a volunteer and the Church has apologized for the incident. The family suspects that the volunteer must have misunderstood the t-shirt and mistakenly presumed that Mr. Frazer was a member of a real biker gang.
This story highlights the importance of some of the non-financial aspects of estate administration, which include funeral planning, the crafting of obituaries, and the wording of monuments. These issues can be very contentious, and can become sources of disagreement and bitterness amongst the family of the deceased.
At law, it is the estate trustee named in the will of a deceased person who has the responsibility of making appropriate and dignified arrangements for his or her funeral, burial, cremation, etc.. Although a will may provide direction to the estate trustee about funeral arrangements, the deceased’s wishes are not binding on the estate trustee. In practice, these wishes are usually followed. Where there is no will, or where the will cannot be immediately located, responsibility will usually rest with the family to make a decision.
Connected with the estate trustee’s responsibility for dealing with the body of the deceased is the duty to erect a grave marker that is appropriate for the deceased person’s station in life and the size of his or her estate. It is also up to the estate trustee to decide what the inscription on the grave marker should say, so long as it is accurate and dignified.
Decisions about disposition of the body, funeral and memorial services, religious observances, obituaries, and the inscriptions on grave markers are deeply personal to the family and friends of the deceased. Where opinions on what the deceased would have wanted diverge, tempers may flare. This can lead to conflict and even litigation within a family. When challenges arise, it is important for family to work together to solve them.
As with most problems, the best way to avoid these difficulties is communication. As part of the estate planning process, consideration should be given to these issues. A person’s wishes should be discussed with his or her family (and estate trustees) while living, so that he or she can explain what he or she has chosen and the reasons for it. Though not binding on the estate trustee, wishes should be recorded in a will or otherwise. These steps will help the family to understand what to expect and to avoid disputes about the deceased’s wishes.
Mr. Frazer’s story shows that there can always be unexpected difficulties when it comes to making arrangements following the death of a loved one. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.