I am single and do not have any survivors. Do I need a will if I want to ask someone to handle my burial arrangements?

Asked on June 10, 2009 under Estate Planning, New York

Answers:

L.M., Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

A will is not a good place to express your death and burial preferences for one simple reason: Your will might not be located and read until several weeks after you die -- long after decisions must be made.  A will should be reserved for directions on how to divide and distribute your property and, if applicable, who should get care and custody of your children if you die while they're still young. If you have no survivors, you may still want a will to leave your assets to friends or organizations.

Regarding your final arrangements, you have many options for writing down your wishes and plans. If you like, you can write a simple letter to your executor and/or other loved ones and friends that spells out the details of your final arrangements.  If you write down what you want, let them know where the information is stored and how to get to it when the time comes.

It's a good idea to review your plans every year or two to be sure they still reflect your wishes. Update your letter or other instructions if you change any of the details of your arrangements.

If you die without leaving written instructions about your preferences, state law will usually determine who will have the right to decide how your remains will be handled. In most states, the right -- and the responsibility to pay for the reasonable costs of disposing of remains -- rests with the following people, in order:

  • spouse or registered domestic partner
  • child or children
  • parent or parents
  • the next of kin, or
  • a public administrator, who is appointed by a court.

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