Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition
In more than half the states, there is a statutory obligation for survivors to honor the written wishes of the deceased, to follow your personal preference. In a few states, your wishes may be over-turned in the case of cremation, however. Even if there is no personal preference law in your state (blank entry below), it is better to have your wishes in writing than not at all. Courts routinely support all but the most outrageous wishes.
Perhaps the most useful laws are those permitting you to name a designated agent for body disposition. If you are estranged from next-of-kin or were never married to your significant other, the designated agent law allows you to name someone other than a legal spouse or relative to carry out your wishes. Or perhaps one of your children is a little more inclined to follow your wishes than the others.
Sometimes circumstances change, and it seems appropriate to change funeral plans, too. One woman's father lived so long that none of his friends were left to come to a viewing. A public viewing for one person--just for her--didn't make sense. Or perhaps you planned on body donation to a medical school in Idaho but die while on a trip to New York. Should your estate pay for shipping your body back to Idaho, or would you trust your agent to make appropriate alternative arrangements?
IMPORTANT — Your designated agent is not obligated to carry your wishes out if they're highly impractical, illegal, or financially burdensome. It's very important for you and your agent to understand how much your wishes will cost, and to plan accordingly. You should not expect your designated agent to pay for a costly funeral if you don't set money aside for that expense.
Alabama - In 2011 the state adopted a designated agent law. Click here to download a form.
Alaska - There is no law giving citizens the right to expect their funeral wishes to be honored, nor the right to appoint someone to act as their agent.
Arizona - Yes, Designated Agent and Personal Preference Law
The state has a personal preference law in Arizona Statute Title 32-1365.01 that gives you the right to authorize your own cremation or disposition in writing. The law clearly states that no one else's consent - not your spouse's, not your childrens' - is required. It seems likely lawmakers weren't aware of this conflict, which is unfortunate, since it may prove confusing for families and for funeral directors.
Arizona also allows citizens to designate an agent to have the authority to make funeral and burial arrangements within the form for a durable healthcare power of attorney. You can find this right in statute 36-3221. But other sections of the law contain confusing and conflicting language that makes it unclear whether the person you designate to carry out your wishes has the highest authority, or whether a surviving spouse does:
36-831. Burial duties; notification requirements; failure to perform duty; definitions
A. Except as provided pursuant to subsection H of this section, the duty of burying the body of or providing other funeral and disposition arrangements for a dead person devolves in the following order:
1. If the dead person was married, on the surviving spouse. Unless:
(a) The dead person was legally separated from the person's spouse.
(b) A petition for divorce or for legal separation from the dead person's spouse was filed before the person's death and remains pending at the time of death.
2. The person who is designated as having power of attorney for the decedent in the decedent's most recent durable power of attorney.
This seems to conflict with rights that already exist in Arizona law.
So What Should You Do?
Your right to authorize your own body disposition still exists in state law. We're fairly sure the courts would uphold a written document declaring your wishes, including a durable healthcare power of attorney that describes your wishes and names an agent to carry them out, even if that person is not your spouse.
Arkansas -- Arkansas enacted a law in 2009 that allows you to specify your funeral wishes in advance. The law also allows you to designate an agent to carry them out (or you may leave those decisions up to your designated agent). Click here to download a declaration form that complies with Arkansas law.
California --Yes, personal preference law, found in California Health and Safety Code 7100.1 California also has a designated agent law found in CHSC 7100. Search for both of these on the state legislature's web site.
Colorado--- Colorado has a personal preference and a designated agent law. Title 15-19-104 of the Colorado Statutes gives a decedent the right to make his own legally binding preferences known in a written document. Here's a form you can download.
Connecticut--- As of October 1, 2005, Connecticut citizens have the right to declare their own wishes for the disposition of their body. This declaration will be legally binding. In addition, citizens may appoint an agent to carry out those directions.You can find the law here. When you click the link, scroll down for section 45a-318.Or, just download the form from us.
DC -- Residents have the right to designate an agent to make decisions about the disposition of the the body. Residents may also make written directions for the disposition of their body that supersede any other party's wishes. These rights can be found in the DC Code, Division 1, Subsection 3-413 at the DC government's website.
Delaware - There is a combined personal preference and designated agent law. Find it in Title 12, Chapter 2, subsections 264 and 265 of the Delaware Code.
Florida --Yes, personal preference law.
Georgia --- Georgia law allows you to appoint an agent to direct the disposition of your remains within the state's Durable Health Care Power of Attorney form. See Georgia Code Title 31, Chapter 36 .
Hawaii—In 2013 the state adopted a combined personal preference/designated agent law. Here is a form you can use.
Idaho -- Idaho law allows you to write up a document naming a person to carry out your funeral wishes, so long as the document is "acknowledged in the same manner as required for instruments conveying real property. . ." A far easier route, however, is to take another option allowed by law: the person you name as your agent in a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare has the authority to make your disposition arrangements unless you specifically deny your agent that right within the document. This right is found in Title 54, Chapter 11, section 42 (54-1142).
Illinois -- As of January 1, 2006, Illinois citizens can declare their wishes for disposition in a written document that is legally binding. They may also designate an agent to carry them out, or to make any decisions if no specific instructions are left. The law allowing this is found under in chapter 755 of Illinois Statutes, Estates, Disposition of Remains Act. Click here and scroll down to look it up.
Indiana --- As of July 2009, you may fill out a Funeral Planning Declaration that allows you to specify your wishes and to appoint an agent who has the legal authority to carry them out.
If you do not fill out a Funeral Planning Declaration, your health care power of attorney named in an advance medical directive has the right to "make plans for the disposition of the principal's body." NOTE - a person named in your Funeral Planning Declaration has legal priority over an agent named in your durable power of attorney for health care when it comes to the disposition of your dead body.
Iowa -- SF 473 became effective July 1, 2008. It gives you the right to name an agent to make all arrangements for the disposition of your body. NOTE - you MUST attach the form to a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney for it to be effective. Download the form here.
Kansas--- Kansas has a designated agent law which can be found in Statute number 65-1734. To find it, to the Kansas Legislature Web site which allows you to look up laws by statute number.
Kentucky -- Kentucky's laws are confusing. Statute 367.97501 says an "authorizing agent" can legally order the cremation of a decedent. It defines an "authorizing agent" as first the deceased himself, and then the usual next of kin, with no provision to allow a person to designate another agent. The law also says that the authorizing agent has the "right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person, unless other directions have been given by the decedent." We read this to mean the deceased's written wishes come first, for all forms of disposition, cremation or burial.But another statute, 367.97527, says that a person must sign a cremation authorization form before his death if he wishes to make those arrangements legal. Yet further down in the same statute, the law says that the next of kin can challenge the person's prearrangement, and the crematory may not cremate the body without a court order. We hope Kentucky will clean up this confusing, contradictory mess and follow the lead of the majority states with clear, unambiguous disposition laws. To search for these statutes, go here.
Louisiana --Wishes of the deceased will prevail if written and notarized.
Maine --You may designate an agent for body disposition as well as your wishes.You can find this right in Title 22, §2843-A, no. 2 of the Maine Statutes.
Maryland - The state's Advance Directives forms now include the option to name an agent to carry out your funeral wishes. You can download the form (and a rather lengthy instruction booklet) here.
Massachusetts -- How too bad that Massachusetts citizens can only ensure their wishes are carried out by paying a funeral director before they've died. Massachussetts regulation number CMR 239, 3:09 states that if a preneed (prepaid) contract is in force, then the funeral director shall obey it. Otherwise, the right to control the disposition of your body devolves along the usual next-of-kin line, whether you like it or not.
Michigan --You may designate your wishes in your will, but your next of kin may override them. If you do make a will, be sure everyone knows where the will is and what it says. Often the will isn't read until after the body is buried.
Minnesota --The state has a personal preference and designated agent law. Statute number 149A.80 allows you to put your disposition wishes in writing, and/or to appoint an agent to carry these out or make decisions for you. You may also use an advance medical directive for this purpose.
Mississippi -- As of July 1, 2004, your prepaid funeral contract is legally binding and cannot be overriden by your next of kin. It's too bad the only way to secure your right to decide what happens to your body is to pay the funeral director ahead of time. Mississippi has the worst consumer protection laws in the country regarding prepaid funerals.
Missouri -- Yes, Designated Agent law. Chapter 194, Death - Disposition of Dead Bodies, Section 194.119, of the Missouri Revised Statutes, states that the next-of-kin has the "right of sepulcher" --- the right to custody and control of the dead body. What's interesting is that in Missouri, you can designate anyone you want to be your next-of-kin for the purposes of the disposition of your body. Go here to read the law.
The easiest way to do this is to name a person to carry out your funeral within your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
Montana -- The state adopted a designated agent law in 2009. Download the form here.
Nebraska --Written or oral wishes of the deceased regarding disposition must be honored. In 2003, Nebraska also added a designated agent provision in statute section 71-1339
Nevada -- Yes, designated agent law. New laws in Nevada as of 2003 give citizens the right to designate an agent for burial or cremation. See Chapter 451 of the Nevada Revised Statutes for details.
New Hampshire -- Yes, there is a designated agent law. From the New Hampshire Statutes:290:17 Custody and Control Generally. - The custody and control of the remains of deceased residents of this state are governed by the following provisions:
I. If the subject has designated a person to have custody and control in a written and signed document, custody and control belong to that person. The person designated by the subject shall be entitled to no compensation or reimbursement of expenses related to the custody and control of the subject's body.
II. If the subject has not left a written signed document designating a person to have custody and control, or if the person designated by the subject refuses custody and control, custody and control belong to the next of kin.
III. If the next of kin is 2 or more persons with the same relationship to the subject, the majority of the next of kin have custody and control. If the next of kin cannot, by majority vote, make a decision regarding the subject's remains, the court shall make the decision upon petition under RSA 290:19, IV.
New Mexico --- You may authorize your own cremation prior to death under statute 24-12A-1. In addition, you may appoint a legal agent to carry out your funeral wishes within your will under statute 45-3-701 B. Click here to download a cremation authorization form that includes tips on using your will to appoint an agent.
New Jersey -- New Jersey adopted a Designated Agent law in 2004. Go to the NJ Legislature page and see Title 45:27-22 to see the statute conferring this right. Once at the legislature page, look at the left-hand menu and scroll down until you see "Laws and Constitutions." Just underneath that, click the link labeled "statutes," then scroll through the numbered titles to find 45:27-22. Beware - you must make your wishes known in a will, so make that will available to your family and friends, not locked away in a safe deposit box.
New York-- Section 4201 of the Public Health Law allows a person to designate an agent to dispose of his remains. The law includes a statutory form that may be used. See the Legislature's web site.
North Carolina --An irrevocable preneed arrangement may not be altered. Since 2007, you can use your Health Care Power of Attorney form to give that person the right to make decisions about your funeral, cremation, burial, or anatomical donation too. Download your NC Health Care Power of Attorney here.
You can also use a stand-alone form to authorize your own cremation before death in North Carolina, though we recommend you fill out the complete Health Care Power of Attorney form.
North Dakota -- We can find no laws giving citizens the right to direct the disposition of their bodies, or the right to designate an agent to do so for them. Title 23-06-03 states, "1. The duty of burying the body of a deceased individual devolves upon the surviving husband or wife if the deceased was married or, if the deceased was not married but left kindred, upon one or more individuals in the same degree, of adult age, nearest of kin to the deceased and possessed of sufficient means to defray the necessary expenses."
North Dakota citizens might want to contact their representatives to ask them to bring the state's body disposition laws into the 21st century and up to par with the majority of other states.
Oklahoma -- There is a combined personal preference and designated agent law. Click here to download a form. The law can be found in §21-1151:Disposal of one's own body.
A. Any person has the right to direct the manner in which his or her body shall be disposed of after death, and to direct the manner in which any part of his or her body which becomes separated therefrom during his or her lifetime shall be disposed of. The provisions of this article do not apply where such person has given directions for the disposal of his or her body or any part thereof inconsistent with these provisions.
B. A person may assign the right to direct the manner in which his or her body shall be disposed of after death by executing a sworn affidavit stating the assignment of the right and the name of the person or persons to whom the right has been assigned.
C. Any person who knowingly fails to follow the directions as to the manner in which the body of a person shall be disposed of pursuant to subsection A or B of this section, upon conviction thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00).
Ohio -- Effective October 12, 2006, Ohio citizens may designate anyone they wish to make funeral, cremation, or anatomical donations of their bodies after death. This new right can be found in 2108.70 of the Ohio Code. See the attachments below to download a copy of an Ohio Designated Agent Form.
Oregon -- Yes, there is both a personal preference and a designated agent law. You may find the statutory form to use to direct your disposition, and to appoint an agent to do so, under Oregon Revised Statutes, 97.130, at here.
Pennsylvania -- Yes, designated agent law. Pennsylvania Statute, Title 20, Chapter 3, Subsection 305, gives citizens the right to make a "statement of contrary intent" that will override the next-of-kin's usual authority and let the citizen designate whom he wants to control the disposition of his body. Click here to search the Pennsylvania statutes.
South Carolina --Yes, personal preference law. A person may authorize his/her own cremation in a Cremation Authorization Form --- see South Carolina Code of Laws, Section 32-8-315 at the State Legislature Web site. Section 32-8-320 allows you to name any person you like (it does not have to be your next of kin) to carry out your wishes for cremation. You must do so in a " will or other verified and attested document." OUR ADVICE --- Do NOT use a will to assign this power to someone. Why? Because the will usually isn't read until after your body is disposed of. Instead, draw up a short, dated document stating that you give such-and-such person the sole right to make arrangements for your disposition, as allowed by SC Code 32-8-30. Date the document, and have it notarized. Make sure your survivors have a copy.
South Dakota --Yes, personal preference law, found in Title 34, Chapter 26, Section 1 of the South Dakota statutes. Click here to download a free form on which you can describe your funeral wishes and make them legally binding.
Tennessee -- Tennessee citizens can give the right to make disposition arrangements to the person named as their agent in a durable health care power of attorney. This right is outlined in the Tennessee Code, Title 34, Chapter 6, Part 2.
Texas --There is a statutory duty to honor the wishes of the deceased. You may also name an agent to control disposition of remains. To view Texas Health and Safety Code 711.02, which contains a form to appoint an agent, see the attachments below.
Vermont --- Effective September 1, 2005, Vermont has added the right to specify the disposition of one's own body, and the right to designate an agent to make decisions about bodily dispostion, to the state advance medical directives law. What a sensible approach! See Title 18, Part 231 of the Vermont Statutes. You can download a Vermont Advance Directive from the Vermont Ethics Network.
Virginia -- Yes, a person may designate an agent to arrange for the disposition of his/her body. See § 54.1-2825. There is a statutory duty to comply with the written wishes of the deceased.
Washington --There is a statutory duty to comply with the written wishes of the deceased. A preneed agreement may not be substantially altered by survivors. You can find the right to direct your own disposition in the Revised Code of Washington, 68.50.160. It states:Right to Control Disposition of RemainsAlso, Washington passed a designated agent law through House Bill 1564 in February, 2011. You may now give another person the legal right to make your funeral arrangements. You must do so in a written document that you sign, and that is signed by at least one witness (not the person to whom you're giving authority).
(1) A person has the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or postdeath consent of another person. A valid written document expressing the decedent's wishes regarding the place or method of disposition of his or her remains, signed by the decedent in the presence of a witness, is sufficient legal authorization for the procedures to be accomplished.
West Virginia -- Statute 16-30-4 allows you express your funeral wishes in an advance medical directive, and/or to appoint a person to carry these out for you.
Wisconsin --- Assembly Bill 305 was signed by the Governor March 5, 2008, giving citizens the right to designate an agent to carry out their funeral wishes. We've created a form you can download WIDesignatedAgent.
Wyoming -- There is a designated agent law, found in statute Title 2, Chapter 17, 2-17-10.