I once had a client who wanted a mausoleum to house his body on his death and to memorialise his life. Of course I was obligated to advise that without a specific sum allocated for this purpose the estate was only liable for reasonable funeral costs. Mausoleums are expensive and so as part of his estate plan he set aside $500,000.00 for the memorial. Very few people have an estate capable of honouring their memory in that way. The average funeral ranges between $5000.00 – $8000.00. The costs can vary according to where your remains are interred, the type of grave marker and other add-ons, such as wakes, and digital recordings of the service etc. Disputes over funeral arrangements often arise, however, by and large propriety prevails and the dispute rarely makes it into a court room. When it does, there are a defined set of principles by which the court determines it. Those principles are derived from the leading judgement in Smith v Tamworth City Council in which Justice Young set out 15 basal principles to apply. Recently such a dispute came before the court and on this occasion it was Justice Young himself who presided over the matter of Zannetides v Spence  NSWSC 2032. There the funeral bill came to $24,000.00 – it included a burial plot, catering for the funeral and an “ornate headstone with a candilli in which candles and other religious items could be displayed.” $24,000.00 is certainly high but not extraordinarily so. However, the cost must always be considered in the context of the value of the estate. Here the estate was a mere $160,000.00 and so the funeral costs represented 15% of the net estate. The deceased’s son arranged the funeral. The deceased’s second wife objected to son’s claim for reimbursement for the funeral expenses and that dispute formed part of a larger claim on the estate. On this issue Justice Young determined that the son be reimbursed $17,851.00. Relevant to the determination, was the deceased’s religious beliefs and the fact the arrangements were made with every body’s full knowledge. The take away point from this decision is that where you or your family have firm views as to your funeral arrangements it is better to address that in your estate plan than to have it erupt into an unpleasant and costly litigation on your death.
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