When a person dies, his body must be disposed of according to state law. Generally, states require that the remains of a deceased person are either buried or cremated. State laws vary about who bears primary responsibility for funeral costs, but generally the estate of the deceased pays the debt out of estate funds.
Estate in Probate
No matter how carefully a person drafts her will to specify which beneficiaries get what assets, the terms of the document are not self-activating. Most wills must go through the court-supervised probate process where assets are collected and debts paid before property can be distributed to beneficiaries. One such debt involves funeral expenses.
Read More: Who Pays Probate: the Estate or a Beneficiary?
The person shepherding the will through probate is called the executor. The executor must pay estate debts with estate assets before he distributes property to the beneficiaries of the will. In California, for example, the statutes set out the order in which estate expenses must be paid and funeral expenses are third, just after estate administration costs and secured debts. While a beneficiary does not pay estate debts directly, the assets of the estate that can be distributed under the will are reduced by every estate bill the executor pays.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.