Contracting for Services
Unless the deceased has made funeral
arrangements prior to death, the services and all
associated materials must be chosen by family members or
friends shortly after the death.
A funeral and final interment must
typically be resolved around one week from the date of
death, which normally requires the arrangements to be
made within one or two days of the person's passing.
Family members will most often meet with a funeral
director the day after the death when possible.
Being primarily concerned with the
fact that life will no longer include the deceased, the
people who make the burial arrangements are often
experiencing heightened emotions during this time.
Under these circumstances, most people do not attend to
the finer details of their actions with the same degree
of attention that would otherwise be given to the same
Even aside from the general emotional
state that the survivors are experiencing, the actual
act of making the funeral arrangements can quickly
become stressful. Comparing and selecting items
like caskets and hearse services are not routine tasks;
once the brochures and pamphlets start circulating for
decisions, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the
choices and, particularly, with the costs. The
purchaser is being presented with unfamiliar items while
being asked to make almost immediate decisions.
(We all know how much a gallon of gasoline costs, but
very few people know the going rate for 12 gauge copper
Finally, a funeral is not the type of
event that people want to appear overly frugal about.
With the entire purpose of the ceremony being the honor
of a loved one's life, it is difficult to refuse items
that may not seem necessary, like a flower transport
The interaction of all these factors
creates a situation that may result in an expensive
contract that is signed by one family member who has not
fully reviewed all of its terms.
Payment of the Contract
Funeral directors often allow a grace period of around
one month to pay the funeral bill. Just as with
any other business, they will begin seeking payment once
this time passes. However, contrary to popular
belief, the funeral director does not contact the
estate's personal representative for payment.
When seeking payment, the funeral
director looks to the person who signed the contract on
the day that the services were arranged. Although
the service bill may be submitted to and properly paid
by the estate, the terms of the service contract
actually obligate the signer to pay the funeral director
In many cases, the bill is paid
before the estate is opened and before any of the
deceased's assets are transferred to an estate account.
When this is done the paid receipt is simply submitted
for reimbursement once the estate is opened.
Reimbursement and Insolvency
Funeral expenses are a priority
obligation that will be paid prior to most other estate
debts, which typically assures repayment to the family
member who satisfies the funeral bill. However,
when estate assets are insufficient to repay the entire
costs, the estate will only repay the expenses that it
can reasonably afford.
Although the estate will make a
repayment to the fullest extent possible, neither the
estate, nor the personal representative are obligated to
seek funds beyond the estate's own assets to make a full
repayment. If the estate cannot pay the full
amount, the person who pays the bill is simply left to
accept the amount that can be given.
In some cases, no one pays the
funeral bill and the unpaid invoice is submitted
directly to the personal representative for payment by
the estate. Just as with reimbursement, the estate
will pay the amount owing to the fullest extent
possible, but will not be obliged to seek additional
funds when the estate assets are insufficient.
Even though the invoice is submitted
directly to the estate, the funeral director will seek
payment directly from the person who signed the contract
if the estate is unable pay the bill in full.
By signing the contract when the
funeral services were arranged, that person agreed to
make full payment for those services and has a legal
obligation to do so. Failure to satisfy this
obligation has the same consequences that come with a
failure to pay any other personal obligations.
It would not be uncommon for someone
to expect similarly situated family members to share in
these expenses, once the signer learns of his or her
individual liability. For instance, the one child
who signs the contract may later ask the deceased's
other children to contribute towards the unpaid portion
of the bill.
Unfortunately, without a separate
agreement between them, those other family members are
not indebted to the funeral service providers or the
signing family member.
The signer may not have fully
appreciated the obligation that was being accepted at
the time, but will still be solely liable to the funeral
director and other service providers for the payment of
all amounts that are not paid by the estate.