Making the Funeral Arrangements
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Helen Low, QC and Nicco Bautista in January 2017.|
There are many decisions to make when arranging the funeral of a loved one who has died. For example:
- Where and when will the funeral be?
- Will the deceased be buried or cremated?
- Will there be an obituary notice or funeral announcement published in the paper?
Often people leave instructions about what they want, either in their will or a letter. When possible, arrangements should respect the deceased’s wishes.
Who is responsible for arranging the funeral?
If the deceased left a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for arranging the funeral and paying the funeral expenses from the deceased’s estate.
If there is no executor, the responsibility for arranging the funeral falls to the deceased’s spouse. BC law sets out a priority order if there is no spouse or they are unwilling to take on the responsibility: next is the adult children of the deceased (in age descending order), followed by the adult grandchildren, a parent of the deceased, an adult sibling, an adult nephew or niece, and so on.
Burial or cremation
By law in BC, a deceased person must be buried or cremated.
Cremation involves using extreme heat and processing to turn the body into sand-like “ashes”. The ashes are placed into an urn.
Are the deceased’s wishes binding?
"In her will, our mom asked that her remains be scattered over a local pond. My siblings and I wanted to bury mom's ashes beside our dad, who died two years before. But by law, because mom had set out a preference in her will, and it wasn’t unreasonable or impracticable, those wishes had to be honoured. After the funeral service, we gathered to scatter mom's ashes over the pond, as she had wished."
– Mavis, Kelowna
Where a will or “preneed cemetery or funeral services contract” sets out the deceased’s wishes for burial or cremation, those wishes are binding on the person arranging the funeral. The exception is if the wishes are unreasonable or impracticable or cause hardship.
If the deceased expressed a preference in another way, such as through a letter or by telling a loved one, then those wishes are not legally binding on the person arranging the funeral.
If cremation is chosen
Because cremation is irreversible and ends any ability to determine cause of death, cremation cannot take place until 48 hours has passed after the time of death.
The cremated remains are returned to the person with responsibility to arrange the funeral. As long as the ashes are treated with respect, the law does not limit what you can do with them. You can keep the ashes in an urn of your choice, bury them in a cemetery plot, or scatter them.
There are no provincial regulations that prohibit the scattering of cremated remains on land, sea or by air. Ashes can generally be scattered anywhere, but if you wish to scatter ashes on private land you should get consent from the landowner.
If burial is chosen
There is no law stating a specific time-frame for burial. The timeline is usually determined by the need to secure all permits and authorizations, notify family and friends, prepare the cemetery site, and observe religious and cultural rituals.
The funeral home may suggest embalming, particularly if an open casket is planned or there is a delay between the death and the burial. Embalming involves using chemicals to prevent the body from decomposing. Embalming is not required by BC law.
The funeral service
Funerals can celebrate the life of the deceased, provide comfort for the living, and offer a time for the community to support the bereaved family and friends.
In planning the funeral service, consider:
- Location: Common options include a funeral home, a church, a community facility, your home, or the home of a friend or relative.
- Type of service: Options include a graveside service (in which the urn or casket is buried), a memorial service or celebration of life (services without a burial), or a direct cremation or burial (a disposition without a formal ceremony).
- Urn or marker: If there is to be an urn or a grave marker such as a headstone, do you want to display it at the service?
Ideally, the service will reflect the lifestyle and personality of your deceased loved one.
When you meet with the funeral home to make the arrangements, make sure you know what you are purchasing and consider whether it really is what you want. While some services offered by funeral homes are legal requirements, such as registering the death, other services are optional, such as embalming or a memorial book.
Prices for funeral services vary widely. All funeral providers must display a current price list of the services and products they offer. If you ask for prices over the phone, they must provide them to you.
The funeral home should provide a written estimate of the cost of the funeral, but the final bill may be higher. The bill will cover the costs of burial or cremation, the fees for the funeral service, and the professional services of the funeral director. There will also be charges for any extras you requested, such as flowers or catering.
Paying the funeral costs
The person who arranges the funeral is responsible for paying the bill. It is important to know where the money for the funeral will come from. Your deceased loved one may have made a preneed contract, paying for their funeral in advance. Check their personal papers to see if they did so. If they did, this should cover the whole cost of the funeral.
If you ask the funeral home for an invoice, you can take it to the financial institution where the deceased did their banking. Most banks will pay the funeral home directly from the deceased’s account. The bank may wish to see a copy of the death certificate and the will, if there is one.
If you pay the funeral home’s bill out of your pocket, you must wait until the estate is settled to receive reimbursement.
If the deceased served in the military and meets the financial criteria, you may be able to get help with funeral expenses from the Last Post Fund. This national non-profit organization provides grants to the spouse or family of a qualifying veteran toward funeral and burial expenses when the estate cannot afford to pay. If the deceased was a child, some funeral homes have a compassionate policy for child deaths.
The BC government may assist when a person dies and there is no money to pay for funeral expenses. This is available to anyone with low income in BC who has no other funds, even if they are not on income assistance. Call 1-866-866-0800.
The cost of the funeral service does not include the cost of a cemetery lot or a memorial marker (for example, a headstone or plaque). You must arrange for these separately.
Before purchasing a memorial marker, make sure it meets the requirements of the cemetery selected. Most memorial dealers can tell you the requirements for local cemeteries.
If you have a complaint
All funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoriums must be licensed with Consumer Protection BC, which regulates the cemetery and funeral services industry in BC.
If you have a complaint about a funeral home, cemetery, or crematorium, contact Consumer Protection BC. See the “Where to Get Help” section for contact details.
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