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Authorization for Final DispositionView PDF

The estate planning professionals at Stellpflug Law, S.C. have a variety of tools at their disposal to help achieve your goals, including wills, various types of trusts, family limited partnerships, marital property agreements, durable powers of attorney for healthcare, durable powers of attorney for financial matters and declaration to physicians.

An additional estate planning tool you may not be familiar with is the Authorization for Final Disposition, available under Wisconsin law. The purpose of this article is to explain why you may want to make this a part of your estate plan.

The Authorization for Final Disposition (“Authorization”) is used to answer the following questions: “Who has the legal right to make decisions concerning my funeral and the disposition of my body? How can I leave instructions concerning my funeral arrangements?” These may not be pleasant questions to answer, but your family will appreciate the guidance at a difficult time.

Completing an Authorization allows you to appoint a representative to make funeral and disposition arrangements. In addition to appointing a representative, you can include suggested instructions concerning religious observances, viewing arrangements, funeral ceremonies, the form of disposition, the source of funeral funds and any other special directions.

An individual of sound mind who has attained the age of eighteen (18) may voluntarily execute an Authorization, which takes effect on the date of execution. The Authorization must be witnessed by two witnesses who each have attained the age of eighteen (18) and who are not related by blood, marriage or adoption to the declarant, or acknowledge before a notary public. If the declarant is physically unable to sign the Authorization, it may be signed in the declarant’s name by an individual, at the declarant’s express direction, and in his or her presence.

The named representative should also sign the Authorization. Upon doing so, he or she is expected to carry out the directions, instructions and suggestions for disposition specified in the document unless the directions, instructions and suggestions exceed available resources of the decedent’s estate or are unlawful or unless there is no realistic possibility of compliance.

As a general rule, the decedent’s estate is liable for payment of the reasonable costs of the funeral and final disposition. Any individual who enters into a contract to pay for funeral services of the descendent, however, can be held personally liable for those costs.

What happens if you do not complete an Authorization? Wisconsin law now provides a comprehensive priority list that spells out who controls funerals and dispositions. The list establishes the following order of priority: 1) the representative appointed under an Authorization; 2) surviving spouse; 3) surviving child or children; 4) surviving parent or parents; 5) surviving sibling or siblings; 6) lineal descendants in the priority order spelled out in the Wisconsin Statutes; 7) the guardian at the time of death; and 8) any other person willing to control the funeral and final disposition who attests in writing that they have made a good faith effort and could not locate any of the persons in the above priority list.

In the absence of a signed Authorization, where responsibility lies with more than one child or more than one sibling, generally the majority has control of the final disposition. In the absence of a signed Authorization, if the individuals on the same level of priority specified above are unable to agree on the final disposition, the Probate Court for the county in which the decedent resided may designate the individual most fit and appropriate to control the final disposition. In making this determination, the Court may consider the reasonableness and practicality of the proposed final disposition, the degree of the personal relationship between the decedent and each of the individuals claiming the right of final disposition, the desires of the individual or individuals who are ready, able and willing to pay the cost of the final disposition, the express written desires of a decedent, the degree to which any proposed final disposition would permit maximum participation by family members, friends and others who wish to pay funeral respects to the decedent.

As with all matters concerning estate planning, we recommend that you not leave these issues to chance and that you complete an Authorization for Final Disposition. In the event you have any questions about Authorizations or any other estate planning topic, please call Stellpflug Law, S.C. and ask to speak to one of our estate planning attorneys, Dave Stellpflug, Mark Bartels, Evan Lin or Deb DeLeers.

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