How to Deal With Disagreements Over Funeral Arrangements

Updated

Funerals are often the turning point that cements a loved one's death into a painful reality. Until this point, many people have yet to accept their loved one's death as they struggle to come to terms with their loss. The initial stages of grief may keep a person stuck in shock and denial for several days after suffering a significant loss. And some individuals may remain there until well after the funeral. 

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But for some, the funeral planning is the beginning of family dysfunction after a loved one's death, leading to relationship-altering disagreements. 

Handling family conflict when planning a funeral can complicate the grieving process and the family dynamic for years to come. The funeral is one of the most important events in honoring the deceased. When a family can't all agree on their loved one's final send-off, it adds an emotionally painful layer to the grieving process. 

What Typically Causes Disagreements Over a Deceased Loved One’s Funeral Arrangements?

Many things can contribute to family disagreements when planning out a loved one’s funeral. Every family’s issues are as unique as each member is to them. However, some of the more common factors include some or all of the following.

Lack of proper end-of-life planning

When written or verbal instruction is absent from a person on what to do at their death, the family is left to figure out the best way to honor their loved one as they make plans for their funeral, cremation, or another form of disposition.

Usually, someone will be at odds with whatever decision the majority of family members make, if not because they disagree with the plan but because the family left them out of the planning process. An individual who leaves behind a written document outlining their wishes before their death helps avoid the added stress of family conflict at an already difficult time. 

Differences in religious or spiritual beliefs 

Funerals serve the added purpose of aligning the deceased person with their religious or spiritual beliefs at the end of their life. Each religion or spiritual path has its unique funeral or end-of-life process to follow. When a family's religious background doesn't align with the deceased person's beliefs, it can create disagreements in planning their funeral and other mourning rituals.

Instead of the funeral planning process being an opportunity for the family to share in their grieving, their loved one's spirituality can quickly become a point of contention among the rest of the family. 

Heightened emotions

Whenever individuals deal with highly stressful and painful events in their lives, they can expect not to feel like their usual selves for a few days afterward. Almost everyone who experiences the profound pain of grief will be outside their ordinary sensibilities for some time. They can expect to feel more sensitive to what others say and do.

Even the most level-headed individuals suffering from grief may react in ways outside of their usual disposition. When an entire family's grieving, it isn't unusual for them to face conflict and disagreement, especially when making funeral arrangements for the deceased loved one. 

Lack of funds to pay for the funeral 

Not having the money to afford a decent funeral service for a loved one is an unquestionably challenging experience for many families, leading to arguments and disagreements over the planning. Although funerals are no longer the social events they used to be in the past, families still want to honor their deceased loved ones in a way that aligns with their legacy.

But often, the lack of funds leads to limited funeral services and ceremonies that lack the grand style the family envisioned for the deceased. Whenever the family can't reconcile the costs of a more lavish funeral service, it can lead to feelings of hurt and resentment that turn into disputes.

Tips for Dealing With Disagreements Over Funeral Arrangements

Not everyone deals with conflict and disagreements over their loved one’s funeral arrangements. Still, when disputes arise, they can bring the worst out in families, causing even more distress than they’re already dealing with. There are no clear-cut or guaranteed ways of handling or resolving these disputes.

Each individual must do their part to ensure that the funeral planning process goes as smoothly as possible for everyone involved. The death of a loved one is a highly stressful and emotional time, and sometimes family infighting is impossible to avoid. The following ways can help families resolve these disagreements to move forward with their grieving without adding unnecessary stress. 

Consider the deceased’s final wishes

Almost every family should consider starting their funeral planning process with their deceased family member’s wishes in mind. Sometimes, when the person was too young to hold an opinion or the death happened quickly and unexpectedly, it’s impossible to refer to what they would have wanted. The best way to deal with disagreements in these circumstances is to discuss options that most closely align with the individual’s spiritual beliefs or religious upbringing. 

Maintain open discussion

Planning a funeral for someone else is never easy, especially when you don’t know what your loved one would have wanted, given the opportunity to participate in the decision-making before dying. You can expect everyone to have differing opinions on the type of service and ceremony that best represents your loved one’s final wishes.

As you come together to talk about the available options, try and allow each person an opportunity to express their opinion without interrupting or criticizing them. The more you give each person room to input their ideas, the less chance for conflict as the family makes final decisions.

Enlist the help of professionals

Families who struggle with making funeral arrangements may need to seek the help of outside or disinterested persons in the decision-making process. Funeral directors can step in to help the family make some of the more critical decisions, such as whether to have a burial or cremation. They can discuss the different options and how they relate to religious and spiritual traditions and alternatives to traditional funerals.

A funeral director can also help the family make the tough financial decisions and discuss financing options to help address some of the family’s concerns over how to afford the funeral arrangements. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Disagreements Over Funeral Arrangements

Planning a loved one's funeral is an emotionally-charged legal and financial task for many families. The estate's representative or the next-of-kin may not always agree to follow their deceased loved one's funeral wishes. The courts will generally avoid the funeral arrangement process, leaving the family to figure the planning out on their own. And, sometimes, that doesn't always yield the greatest outcomes.

The law is particular on specific aspects of the disposition of a deceased person's estate but generally stays out of what happens to their body after death. We put together the following information to help individuals and families get acquainted with some basics of what to do when they can't come to terms with funeral planning. 

Who has the right to make funeral arrangements in the US?

Ideally, each individual should have the opportunity to plan their funeral or other arrangements before death with a personal representative, ensuring that they meet with their instruction. Unfortunately, even with the most detailed planning, a deceased person’s last wishes aren’t legally binding. And the appointed legal representative named under a will or by court order has the final say when making funeral arrangements, despite what’s written in the document or what the family wants. 

When making funeral arrangements, a legal representative may consider the deceased person’s wishes for the final disposition of their remains, the cost associated with carrying out those wishes, and the practicality and legality of the written or expressed wishes. The estate representative can also consider the family’s wishes but isn’t generally obligated to do so under the law. The deceased person’s pre-death planning becomes more of a guideline than a mandate for the estate representative.

What if your family doesn’t want to fulfill your loved one’s funeral wishes?

Many individuals have strong opinions and specific desires for what happens to their remains after death. They take all of the proper end-of-life planning advice and take care to establish their wishes in their will and other legal documents drafted for this specific purpose. However, there’s no way of ensuring that your loved one’s final wishes are honored despite their best efforts. 

At the time of death, the family or the appointed estate representative takes over, and it is up to the person left in charge by law or written document to make the final arrangements. The courts won’t generally intervene when there’s a dispute over funeral arrangements, as funeral planning is beyond the scope of most jurisdictions.

In this situation, you may have no choice but to stand back during the planning process and consider holding a separate memorial service that more closely honors your loved one’s wishes wherever possible.

What can you do if your family is leaving you out of funeral planning?

Whether you're feeling left out of your family's funeral planning for your deceased loved one, or if they've left you out of the decision-making process, you can voice your concerns before they make any final decisions.

When making your displeasure known, remember that everyone involved is grieving their loss individually, and you'll likely find yourself dealing with heightened emotions and sensitivity at many different levels. Understanding and respecting each individual's grief is essential when raising the issue of being left out of the planning. 

First, you may want to understand why the family chose to exclude you before confronting or accusing anyone of sidestepping you. Consider making amends wherever necessary and expressing your sincere desire to participate in the planning.

Sometimes families leave out certain individuals from the planning process because of estrangement or to avoid unnecessary conflict. Figure out where you fit in with their decision to leave you out and work it out.

Family Conflicts Over The Funeral Planning 

Planning a funeral for a deceased loved one becomes the final act of service for most families toward their loved ones and is a highly emotional process for many individuals. A loved one’s final send-off is the last memory of the deceased before their remains are buried or otherwise disposed of.

Because this is the last time anyone will physically see their deceased loved one, it can cause profound pain and anxiety among the survivors. Although disagreements in the planning process are not uncommon, the family can successfully work through these differences with respect and open communication.  

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