At a time when the death of a relative should unite families in their grief, all too often it does the opposite and conflict arises. Two sisters learned an expensive lesson when their funeral fight cost them $51,000 in legal fees, arguing over their mother’s $11,000 funeral.
Before she passed in December, 2020, a 93-year-old mother of five appointed two of her daughters as joint executors.
She explicitly left instructions that she wanted a simple funeral. The woman had signed a statutory declaration dated September 2020, stating: “I do not wish for a funeral service to be carried out on my passing,” according to legal firm Stacks.
The elderly woman also specified that she wanted to avoid an argument among her children, as there were disagreements with the arrangements of her late husband’s funeral when he passed in 2011.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get her dying wish because her daughters, as joint executors, could not agree with the funeral arrangements preceding the cremation. Australian law states that when two or more executors are appointed, they must act jointly when making decisions about the deceased person’s estate and funeral.
Two of the woman’s three other children took sides in the funeral fight, which the court described as being “conducted with a level of persistent acrimony”.
So much for her wish of avoiding conflict!
Although the two women agreed it was their mother’s wish for a cremation without an elaborate service, they disagreed about the accompanying service.
The first argued that when their father died, her other sister took too much control of the funeral arrangements, which caused tension and anger among family members. She said that her mother wanted to avoid the same thing happening with her funeral. She added that her mother wanted a bare cremation without an attended ceremony, and her ashes placed in a niche with her late husband’s. She wanted to plan an unattended cremation with a low-cost funeral provider.
On the contrary, the opposing sister argued that her mother had said her husband’s service was lovely and that she would like something similar with the same traditional funeral provider. She added that an attended service was necessary to support loved ones in their grieving.
The sisters’ funeral fight lasted three weeks while their mother’s body was held in the mortuary. They wanted their mother to be cremated before Christmas, so the NSW Supreme Court was forced to intervene.
In the end, nobody got exactly what they wanted and the children’s inheritance took an expensive hit.
The court instructed that there should be a small private family funeral for the mother, with the traditional funeral provider the second sister requested. A neutral person was the only person reading the eulogy, which was facilitated by the funeral director, and no other person was to share tributes.
The decision cost the mother’s estate $51,000 in legal fees, which was divided among the four disputing siblings’ share of the estate.
How to avoid a funeral fight when you die
The death of a relative often brings out the worst in families, as the above case study shows.
The unfortunate reality of the death of a close family member is the arguments that follow when planning their funeral and dividing their assets. It’s often a time of heightened emotions, where not everyone is on the same page.
It’s common for the passing of a relative to cause a major rift in the family. Family feuds often arise with relatives arguing over what should happen at the funeral and what they believe to be in the best interest of the dearly departed.
In the above example, the mother could have saved her kids the legal fight and her estate tens of thousands of dollars, by arranging a prepaid direct cremation with a funeral provider like Bare.
The scenario also highlights the importance of making your funeral plans explicitly known, either noted in your will or on a separate funeral wishes document.
It also brings to light the risk in appointing joint executors who don’t see eye to eye. For more tips read our article Who should I choose as the executor of my will, here.
Why a preplanned funeral makes sense
Bare’s 2021 *Funeral Experiences Study found nine in 10 Australians (90%) believe that individuals should have the chance to plan their own funeral in advance. The same percentage believe the deceased’s wishes should be respected during the funeral planning process at the time of passing.
Despite this, Bare’s study also found that less than 1 in 5 services (17%) were planned in advance before the loved one had passed. So, if the womab had pre-arranged her non-attended funeral service, there would have been no disputing her intentions of a simple cremation.
So how can you avoid your funeral turning into an episode of Family Feud? The solution is simple. Plan ahead with a prepaid funeral and remove the guesswork from your family when the time comes.
Families are often unprepared when a loved one dies, and it’s hard to know what to do. A pre-paid funeral service with Bare means Aussies who want to take the future financial and emotional stress off their family can plan ahead for their own simple farewell. It also means you have a say in the send-off you want and save the family drama when the time comes.
Bare removes the unnecessary stress by enabling Aussies to prepay their cremation and pre-plan their own farewell, the way they want it. It makes things simpler for you, and the family.
In this family’s case, a Bare pre-paid cremation would have cost around $2,500, instead of more than $60,000. (Please note that prices of a Bare arrangement vary depending on location).
Save your funeral turning into an episode of Family Feud when you kick the bucket by pre-paying with Bare and going your own way. Give our prepaid concierge team a call on 1800 202 901, or visit bare.com.au for a quote.
* Bare’s 2021 Funeral Experiences Study was conducted between July to September 2021, with 1468 respondents.
This article is not legal advice. You should speak with a legal professional for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.