Funeral expenses – what can be recovered from the estate?

A person who spends their money to bury a body has an action to recover his or her reasonable costs and expenses from the Estate, as well as the reasonable costs for a reasonable headstone.

Therefore, what happens when, say, a second spouse is at odds with the children of the deceased about the funeral, its style, and the headstone commissioned? If a child proceeds to arrange their parent’s funeral against the wishes of the spouse, can they seek reimbursement of the money spent by them?

The basic rule is that if a person has a will, their Executor has the right to arrange the funeral, and if there is no will, then the administrator of the estate has that right. In a recent case, a son sought to recover from their father’s second wife (the administrator of the father’s estate) the amount of $24,000.00 that was spent on the father’s funeral for the acquisition of the burial plot, the funeral generally, the catering for the funeral and the provision of an ornate head stone. The second wife considered the amount sort was excessive and paid the $6,000.00 and would pay no more.

In this particular case the son had been left with the job to arrange the funeral with everyone’s knowledge and arranged a funeral that he thought due to his knowledge of his father’s views and religious beliefs was worthy of his father. In these circumstances, the Court found that the cost was reasonable particularly as the son did not claim any interest in the legal action. Also, the Court ordered that the second wife pay costs to the son for that part of the proceedings relating to the funeral costs.

This case confirms the normal rules that a Court will consider when a person makes a claim for funeral expenses against an estate. If you are asked to arrange a funeral, in order to protect yourself, some suggestions in dealing with the matter are:

  1. If an Executor has been appointed under a will, then the Executor should arrange the funeral or authorise another to do so. If the Executor is concerned about the general cost for the funeral, they should advise that person of the budget they can spend in arranging the funeral. The person arranging the funeral should consult with the Executor and family on the general matters arranged so the costs will not be a surprise and are approved by the Executor or are reasonable and to avoid future arguments. This may be hard given family sensitivities.
  2. If there is no will, then the likely Administrator should arrange the funeral or authorise another to do so, and give that person appropriate guidelines on cost.
  3. The person arranging the funeral must act reasonably in all the circumstances having regard to the wishes of the Executor/Administrator and the family of the deceased if no budget has been given to the person arranging the funeral. Acting reasonably will take into account any wishes the deceased may have advised his family, the deceased’s cultural and religious beliefs and any other circumstance that may be relevant to the decision.
  4.  The person arranging the funeral does not have an absolute right to recover the cost of the funeral. If they ‘go overboard’ they may not be able to recover from the Estate the full amount spent

For any Will and Estate issues contact our Wills and Estates team at McLaughlins Lawyers, your Gold Coast Wills and Estate Lawyers.