Does a sibling have any say in her mother's burial planning if she does not have power of attorney?

A fellow caregiver asked...

A friend of mine has a sister who has recently become their mom's power of attorney. I don't know if it is general or health type. My friend's mom has recently been transferred to a hospice care facility. My friend already has a mortuary site and stone paid for. She is concerned that her sister won't want their mom to be buried where previously decided. (There is nothing in writing.) Does the sister who is NOT Power of attorney have any say in this matter?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Any power the sister holds by dint of the power of attorney ends when your friend's mother dies. So that will not likely be the sticking point in their situation.

But to avoid an unpleasant psychological wrestling match when death does occur, you should urge your friend to put a few safety guards in place.

While she's still alive, the mother's wishes can rule. The strongest protection would be her to put her wishes in writing – and this may already have been accomplished if the mother was a party to the purchase contract with the mortuary. If she was not, urge the mother to write a brief outline of her preferences and sign it, preferably attached to a copy of the mortuary contract. While this is not absolutely bulletproof from a legal standpoint, most surviving family members are likely to honor and respect such wishes.

If the mother is willing and able, she could also record her wishes for these final arrangements with a local funeral or memorial society. That group might then be willing to intercede to make sure they were enforced after her death. Find a local society through the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

If the mother is not the documenting kind, your friend should at least encourage her to mention her preferences to the sister, preferably in the presence of another person or two who could later vouch for those wishes. This at least has the power of guilt-induced persuasion behind it.

Finally, if the mother is not able to act, your friend might get some good and direct guidance with this issue from the hospice workers providing her final care.