Governor signs Schuitmaker ‘funeral representative’ legislation

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker

LANSING, Mich. — Legislation that would improve efficiency and reduce complications often associated with the funeral planning process was recently signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Senate Bill 551, now Public Act 57 of 2016, would update the Estates and Protected Individuals Code to allow someone to designate a funeral representative who would be responsible for carrying out his final disposition.

“This is meant to create some consistency within the process of funeral planning,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, the bill’s sponsor. “People are very emotional during these times and too often we hear of heartbreaking disputes between family members that halt the process and sometimes permanently damage relationships with loved ones.”

Schuitmaker said the legislation is necessary because it allows a single point of contact to be responsible for making all of the final decisions regarding one’s final disposition — as opposed to several family members or loved ones who disagree with one another’s decisions, or having several individuals handling multiple, separate matters.

Under current law, when an individual dies in Michigan, decisions regarding the funeral and final disposition are made by the next of kin — a group that can often include multiple people. In the event there are several people who fall into this category — for example, when the deceased has multiple children — a majority decision among the group will be the deciding factor.

“State law currently does not take into consideration the modern dynamics of families. Many are separated by geographical distance or multiple marriages, thus making it difficult to find next of kin or determine who is responsible for decision making,” Schuitmaker said. “Additionally, the law remains silent on situations in which the next of kin do not agree, or did not follow the known directions of the decedent, which is typically the origin of most conflicts.”

Michigan law also allows an individual to designate another person as a patient advocate or give someone power of attorney to make medical, legal or financial decisions on his behalf, but that authority ends when the person dies — leaving any further decision making up to the next of kin.

“This new law provides Michigan residents the opportunity to designate a funeral representative who they trust to carry out their final wishes,” said Schuitmaker. “With this designation, funeral directors will no longer have to determine who is the next of kin or next of kin class, and families can avoid disputes about the decedent’s wishes.”

Schuitmaker also noted that 35 states currently allow individuals to designate someone as their funeral representative.

“One of the smartest things you can do for your family is to make burial and funeral arrangements in advance. However, many people do not leave behind a plan expressing their wishes,” Schuitmaker said. “This legislation will bring Michigan in line with an overwhelming majority of other states and provide a backup plan, should a funeral representative fail to take action.”

PA 57 was signed by the governor on March 29 and will take effect on June 27.