Funeral arrangements are an important part of estate planning. Having funeral plans in place can provide you and your loved ones with the peace of mind that adequate provisions are in place for the funeral from both a financial and personal perspective.

The responsibility for arranging a funeral depends, in the first instance, on the will. If an executor has been appointed in the will, this individual is responsible for organising the funeral.

The executor has the right to custody of the body until it is buried or cremated. However, under Part 5 of the Human Tissue Act 1983 (NSW), the executor is not empowered to make decisions about organ donation or post-mortem examinations; these decisions fall to the next of kin.

However, if there’s no will or no named executor, the next of kin is responsible for possession of the body and for arranging the funeral. Failing any available next of kin, the State takes over what is then classed as a ‘destitute funeral’.

Deaths must be registered with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, by supplying a valid medical certificate from a medical practitioner detailing the cause of death. A death certificate is then provided to the next of kin in the first instance or the funeral director if required. Both documents are required for a burial. If the body is to be cremated, additional documents are required by law, including a permit for cremation and a cremation certificate, both of which must be signed by a medical practitioner.

Most people engage the services of a professional funeral director, to organise a funeral. It’s important to remember that the person who contacts the funeral director and orders the funeral is entering into a contract with the funeral director and will be responsible for paying the account.

Funeral directors may also charge interest if the account is left unpaid for a long period of time. However, banks and other financial institutions will usually release funds from the estate of a deceased person, in order to cover the funeral expenses. Financial assistance may also be available from Centrelink bereavement payments, carer payments, pensions, the Department of Veterans Affairs and private health insurance schemes, depending on the individual circumstances.

There are no set fees for funerals. Costs vary, depending on factors such as the cemetery or crematorium, type of coffin or casket, grave plot and location, memorial plaques or headstones and the type of service involved.

Cremation is becoming increasingly preferred and may be cheaper than a burial. The deceased’s ashes become the property and responsibility of the next of kin upon cremation. The crematorium may agree to store the ashes for several months, although this usually comes at a cost. The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW) places restrictions on where ashes can be disposed of.

The issues discussed here address just some of the questions which family members may encounter when facing the prospect of arranging a funeral.

For further advice or for assistance in drafting a will tailored to your individual circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us at or on +61 2 9299 9920.

From the legal team at Cohen & Krass – where in-depth knowledge and extensive experience combines to give you the service and solutions you deserve. 

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