On June 27, 2016, Public Act 57 of 2016 became effective in Michigan, providing a means by which an individual may designate an agent to make post-death decisions regarding funeral arrangements and the disposition of bodily remains. This new statute provides some clarity to what has been a murky area of the law.

Prior to passage of Public Act 57, the law set out which individuals were presumed to have authority to make decisions regarding funeral arrangements. Under prior law, a surviving spouse had the right to make those decisions, followed by the decedent’s next of kin, which could be children, parents or siblings. The prior law did not give any weight to the wishes of the decedent, and effectively prevented individuals from planning ahead to avoid disagreements among family members, or to ensure that their own wishes would be carried out if their family members did not agree with their wishes.

Public Act 57 changes this scenario, and permits an individual to nominate an agent, who is referred to as a “funeral representative,” to make post-death funeral arrangements and to arrange for the disposition of bodily remains. A successor funeral representative can also be named, in the event the primary representative is unable or unwilling to act. The designation of a funeral representative must be made in a written document that is signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses, or before a notary public.

The designation of a funeral representative can be a useful part of the estate planning process in several scenarios. For example, unmarried couples who wish to allow their partner to make funeral decisions now have a means to make this designation. Without Public Act 57, the right to make funeral arrangements in those circumstances would likely fall to the decedent’s children, parents, or siblings, with the partner having no legal say in the arrangements. Similarly, an individual who has specific funeral or burial wishes may want to designate an individual that will comply with those wishes to ensure that they are carried out.

Under Public Act 57, the designation of a funeral representative should become a part of the estate planning discussion with your legal representative.