Sidenote

Sidenote: Seven-ish Common Misconceptions

Sidenote is a collection of real-life events that I have personally experienced or received as second-hand accounts from colleagues. They address different scenarios that are relevant to the blog and explore various points of funeral law. Think of them as the answers to short essay exam questions.

Naturally, any identifying information has been removed.


Today I am going to discuss seven-ish common misconceptions surrounding funerals, in no particular order. If you or “a friend” have any myths or misconceptions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

1.) “I have Power of Attorney. Which makes me the one in charge.”

Ehh – Wrong! The designation of Power of Attorney (POA) simply refers to one’s ability to make all/specific legal and financial decisions on another person’s behalf. A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) lets you keep those abilities, should that person become mentally diminished. Both of these items expire upon death and do not allow you to skip to the front of line when it comes to identifying a deceased’s closest next-of-kin.

We all want to hope for the best in matters of health, but we should also prepare for the worst. Anyone acting as POA should also have the designation of ‘funeral agent.’ This can be done by completing an Appointment of Agent form. The rights of the funeral agent supersede the rights of all others, including the spouse and other relatives such as children and parents. See our article on preserving postmortem autonomy for more information.

2.) “We’re planning to use mom’s credit card to pay for her funeral.”

Hard pass. This comes up at least once a week with families at the chapel where I work. Make no mistake, you 100% cannot use any form of payment (card, check, blood-oath, IOU, etc) belonging to the deceased to pay for services on their behalf. It is fraud. The only exception is if it is a joint account between spouses.

If you are relying on someone else’s funds to provide for their funeral I strongly suggest preplanning the services and opening a Preplan account with the funeral home of your choice.

3.) “Embalming is required by law.”

No. There is no federal or state mandate requiring the embalming of remains. However, if the deceased is being repatriated to a foriegn country, embalming is a must to remain in compliance with international regulations. Additionally, a funeral home may suggest embalming depending on the services you’re requesting, or the general condition of your loved one (decomposition, contagious diseases (not HIV, but infections that are contracted in a hospital setting and can be spread after death like MRSA.), or autopsy), but it is not required. 

If you elect to forgo the embalming, refrigeration is a perfectly acceptable substitute until services can be performed. Which leads me to my next point…

4.) “My aunt had ____ (enter diagnosis – HIV, Hep C, Hep B), so the hospital recommended that we cremate.”

Listen. There is no sane explanation for some of the unsolicited garbage I have heard regurgitated by hapless families, as if it were gospel, from the mouths of supposed medical professionals. Cremation is only appropriate if you want it, medical history notwithstanding.

5a.) “You must buy your casket or urn from the funeral home as part of services.”

Not at all. Funeral home price lists are itemized so that folks can easily select the items they want to purchase a la carte without the bloat of “packaged” solutions. You are well within your rights to purchase a casket or urn from outside your chosen funeral home. Same thing with other merchandise like flowers, programs or memorial videos. Be aware that the funeral home may require that you be present when the item is delivered to inspect for damage or defect.

For a quick 101 on reading funeral contracts, click here.

5b.) “Funeral homes reuse caskets and urns”

Hell no. With the exception of rental caskets, it is actually illegal to reuse caskets. As far as used urns go, could you imagine having to explain to someone that grandma’s urn comes pre-floured? GURL.

6.) “I’m just going to stuff the ashes in my carry-on bag.”

About 15% of the cremation families I interact with have plans to take some or all of the ashes to another state or country. Many airlines and consulates have relaxed their requirements for transporting cremated remains in recent years, but you should always do your due diligence:

  • Call your airline to make sure they accept ashes in carry-on luggage, or if they prefer checked. American, United, and Delta all accept carry-on, but JetBlue often waivers depending on where the flight is going.
  • Have original copies of both the cremation and death certificates ready for inspection. 
  • Have the ashes in a TSA approved urn or the temporary container from the crematory. TSA cannot scan metal urns, and they will bust your balls about it.
  • For international flights, please call your consulate to confirm their requirements (if any) for getting cremains through customs.

7.) “I didn’t have enough time with him before the funeral home came.”

When speaking with families about a death that has just occurred, many of them opt for more time with the deceased after they know it’s an option. It is always an option. Want to wait a few hours? Great. See you tomorrow morning? Got it. I have serviced families who wanted to keep the deceased in the home for a three-day vigil before going anywhere. That is perfectly fine. The funeral industry is a service-oriented business, not retail. We are at your disposal.

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