Legal Question in Wills and Trusts in Maryland

Responsibility of all heirs

My Grandmother passed away recently. She did not have life insurance and my father has two brothers who agreed to share in the funeral costs and, all signed documents to pay the costs. Now after the funeral my father's brothers are not going to pay the funeral costs and made a threat to file suit against my dad to pay for the entire funeral. My dad's oldest brother is the head of the estate. Do they have a case against my father and, what course of action if any does my father have?

Asked on 11/17/04, 4:23 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Alan Albin Alan S. Albin, Attorney at Law
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Re: Responsibility of all heirs

Please accept my condolences.

If you'll pardon me for saying so, it seems like what is really going on here is that your whole family is understandably upset and stressed-out over the loss of your grandmother. The best thing you could do, if you see fit to do it, is to advise everyone that the family should work it out reasonably and not make a legal fight out of it. Really, would grandma have wanted you all fighting over her funeral this way?

Now, as to the purely legal issues--1) normally, the funeral home will have the relative(s) who arranges for the funeral sign a promissory note and/or contract obligating that person directly to pay the funeral home, regardless of any later family squabbles on the issue. So, whoever arranged grandma's funeral is probably directly "on the hook" for the expenses.

2) Usually, a person's will often includes language stating that the funeral costs shall be paid out of the assets of the estate. If true in this case, your father, as executor of the estate, has an obligation to pay the funeral expenses out of the estate proceeds, which probably would include reimbursing a family member who may have advanced any funds to the funeral home.

3) Even if there is no express agreement with the funeral home or in grandma's Will, the funeral home definitely has a legal claim directly against your grandma's estate, if they are not paid.

I suggest the following: if grandma's Will says that she expects the funeral expenses to be paid out of her estate (or perhaps life insurance proceeds), then that is exactly what should be done, because that was what grandma wanted.

If grandma's Will doesn't say that expressly, then your father would probably be justified in paying the funeral expenses out of grandma's estate proceeds anyway, as the expense represents a claim against the estate.

If someone else in the family signed a promissory note with the funeral home, it does not make a whole lot of sense to impose the full cost of the funeral directly on that person, because obviously that person was acting with good intentions on behalf of everyone in the family.

This was a family event, a family tragedy, and your family needs to cooperate to resolve it in a friendly manner which will not disrupt the family any further than grandma's death has already done.

Read more
11/20/04, 10:27 am

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