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Who's In Charge? You? Maybe Not

Published: January 3, 2020
by Chad Anthony Meacham

When someone dies – who’s in charge?  Who gets to make decisions on what is done with the body?  What if one person wants cremation and another is opposed to it?  If a married couple is separated and one dies – does the survivor have first rights or would a son or daughter’s rights prevail?  Situations like these (and many other) present themselves on a regular basis.  So what does the funeral director do?  Flip a coin?  No – in Indiana, the law is specific as to the order of who is in charge, or using legal terminology, who has “right of disposition”.  It’s found under IC 29-2-19-17.

Before getting technical, the most common order of this “right of disposition” (without legal exceptions) is usually seen like this:

1st           Husband or wife

2nd          Son or daughter

3rd           Father or mother (or both)

4th           Brother or sister

That’s the broad generality.  Now, I will list the technical aspects of the Indiana law.  Notice that the surviving spouse is now 4th in line.  There are other interesting aspects that come in to play. 

By law, this is the order that is considered:

1st           A person named in a funeral planning declaration (I will cover this in a future                    blog – stay tuned!)

2nd          A person named in a DD Form 93 (if the decedent died while serving in the                      military)

3rd           A person specifically granted the authority in a power of attorney or health                        care POA

4th           Spouse

5th           Surviving adult child (if more than one adult children, the majority); less than                    half can have rights if the adult children have used reasonable efforts to notify                  the others and are not aware of any opposition to the final disposition                                instructions by more than half of the children

6th           Parent or parents; if one of the parents is absent, the one who is present has                  rights if reasonable efforts were used to contact the absent parent

7th           Sibling; if more than one, same rules apply as multiple children

8th           A person in the next degree of kinship; if more than one person in same                          degree of kinship survives, same rules apply as multiple children

9th           Step-child; if more than one, same rules apply as child

10th         The person appointed to administer the decedent’s estate

11th         Any other person willing to act

Will you be in charge of arranging someone’s final plans?  Who will be in charge of your final plans?  One thing that you can do to solve a multitude of issues later – is to plan ahead.  Call Meacham and speak with Andrea, a licensed funeral director.  There is no cost or obligation.  You owe it to yourself and those you love. 

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