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Who Can Make Decisions After a Loss?

After a loved one passes away, there are many important decisions to make, from planning the funeral service to planning the burial. Sometimes, this process can cause disagreements among family members, who have different ideas about the kind of funeral arrangements a loved one would have wanted. Fortunately, there is legal framework that determines who has the final say about funeral and burial planning, which can help to resolve some of these conflicts. If you are planning a funeral service in San Jose and are unsure who has the right to make the final decisions, here is what you need to know.

When Pre-Planning Has Occurred

If your loved one pre-planned his or her funeral or burial, many of the choices will have been made in advance for you. Following your loved one’s pre-planning wishes can alleviate any conflict, because no one is being tasked with making major decisions over another family member. If no pre-plan exists, your loved one’s will or a similar notarized legal document may specify a person to take charge of the funeral planning. When a document like this exists, everyone is legally obligated to follow it.

When There Is No Pre-Plan

If your loved one didn’t make any pre-need arrangements, then the next-of-kin becomes the decision maker. The first next-of-kin is a spouse or domestic partner. Children come next, followed by parents and then siblings. If the first next-of-kin is not available, then the decision-making power transfers down the list until it reaches someone who is available and capable of making decisions. Generally, to qualify as next-of-kin, a person must be over 18.

When Conflicts Arise

If a next-of-kin hierarchy is unclear, or if there are reasons for some members of the family to challenge the usual hierarchy, legal challenges are sometimes mounted. Families who are trying to navigate these issues also sometimes use mediation.


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