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Making Funeral Arrangements  - What you should know

What you should know

The law says who’s responsible for arranging the funeral

The deceased may have named an executor in a will. This person is responsible for arranging the funeral and paying the funeral expenses from the deceased’s estate.

If there’s no executor, the responsibility falls on the deceased’s spouse. If there’s no spouse or they’re not willing to take the job, BC law sets out a priority order. Next up are the deceased’s adult children, then adult grandchildren, then a parent, and so on.

What if the right passes to people of equal rank (such as adult children)? The law says they can decide among themselves who should do it. If they can’t agree, priority descends in order of age.

The deceased’s wishes for burial or cremation may be legally binding

"In her will, our mom asked us to scatter her remains over a local pond. We wanted to bury her ashes beside our dad. But mom had set out a preference in her will, and it wasn’t unreasonable or impracticable. So that preference had to be honoured. After the funeral service, we gathered to scatter mom's ashes over the pond, as she’d wanted." 

– Mavis, Kelowna

By law in BC, a deceased person must be buried or cremated. Cremation involves using extreme heat and processing to turn the body into coarse sand-like ashes. 

Most wills don’t cover details relating to the funeral service, burial, or cremation. Some do. Your loved one’s particular wishes for their funeral or memorial service won’t be binding, even if they put them in their will. 

But their preference, expressed in the will, for burial or cremation is legally binding — except if following it would be unreasonable, impracticable, or cause hardship. The same applies if the preference is noted in a contract for cemetery or funeral services. But if the preference is expressed in any other way — such as through a letter or by telling a loved one — it’s not legally binding.

Even if a preference isn’t legally binding, arrangements should respect the deceased’s wishes when possible.

If cremation is chosen

Cremation can’t take place until at least 48 hours after death. This is because it ends any possibility of determining the cause of death.

The cremated remains are returned to whoever is arranging the funeral. As long as the ashes are treated with respect, the law doesn’t limit what you can do with them. You can keep the ashes in an urn, bury them in a cemetery plot, or scatter them. You can even take them out of Canada to disperse them.

There are no laws in BC that prohibit the scattering of cremated remains on land, sea, or by air. Ashes can generally be scattered anywhere. But if you wish to scatter ashes on private land, get consent from the landowner. (Otherwise you’re breaking the law in a different way: by trespassing.)

If burial is chosen

There’s no law stating a specific time frame for burial. The timeline is usually determined by the logistics involved. This includes getting any required permits and authorizations, notifying family and friends, preparing the cemetery site, and observing religious and cultural rituals.

Embalming involves using chemicals to prevent the body from decomposing. The funeral home may suggest embalming, particularly if an open casket is planned or there’s a delay before the burial. Embalming is not required under the law.

Funeral costs vary depending on the choices made

When you meet with the funeral home to make the arrangements, make sure you know what you’re purchasing. Is it really what you want? Some services offered by funeral homes are legal requirements, such as registering the death. Other services are optional, such as embalming or having a memorial book.

Prices for funeral services vary widely. All funeral providers must display a current price list of the services and products they offer. If you ask for prices over the phone, they must provide them to you. (Never be shy to ask if there are other, perhaps cheaper, solutions that you aren’t being steered toward.) 

The funeral home should provide a written estimate of the cost of the funeral, but the final bill may be higher. The bill will cover the costs of burial or cremation, the fees for the funeral service, and the professional services of the funeral director. You’ll also be charged for any extras, such as flowers or catering.

If you have a complaint

All funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoriums must be licensed with Consumer Protection BC. This body regulates the cemetery and funeral services industry in BC.

If you have a complaint about a funeral home, cemetery, or crematorium, contact Consumer Protection BC.