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Funerals/locating personal funds for funeral expense.


QUESTION: I live in Florida and I have a grand-aunt who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently in the hospital and may be transferred to hospice pretty soon. she has no will (that I know of), no advance directive and She never married and had no children and only has two next of kin (myself and my father) My father cannot make  funeral arrangements for her because he has dementia. So I have decided to make sure she receives a decent funeral. I cannot pay for it myself. She told me where her accounts were? I found one but have unable to locate the other two. What is the procedure to gain access to her funds to pay for her final expenses? Can I just show the bank a bill from the funeral home and the death certificate when the  time comes. Do they need proof from me that we are related (we share the same last name)How does that work. How do I find her other accounts if the money is not enough. Go to each bank in her neighborhood? After I pay her bills, funeral expenses, unpaid rent miscellaneous medical bills. Do I just leave the unused balance in her account indefinitely. How does that work? What about her pension? How do I stop the payments to her account?

ANSWER: You need to be named as the administrator for her estate or get a power of attorney. Is she willing to give you a durable power of attorney for financial affairs now before she dies? That would be the best solution. She also might appreciate being able to express her own wishes. Most folks want to stay in control as long as they can. You can point out to her that if she tells you what she wants, then other people won't be able to monkey with her plans.

If there aren't enough funds in her accounts, you may have to pick a simple cremation rather than burial, especially  if she doesn't already own a burial plot. In NY that is going to be expensive, esp. with the opening and closing charges.

Use copies of the death certificate to notify social security and pensions. SS may be notified by the state automatically when the death certificate is filed. Other than getting information from your aunt on where her accounts are, you can simply in future years look at the "unclaimed funds" list put out by the state. My brother just found $455 due to my deceased father and is claiming it for us.

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QUESTION: Thank you for your timely response. At this time she is unable to communicate or partake in any decision making. So power of attorney is out of the question. Is being named administrator of her estate the same as filing for guardianship?. Is there a time limit to when this can be done?. Can it be done after her passing?

Yes if I am unable to find the other accounts I will look at the unclaimed funds list put out by the state. Thank again.

ANSWER: If she is unable to make decisions at this point, by ALL means petition for guardianship! I take it she's in a nursing home. Who do they think is responsible for making her decisions? Did someone else already petition for guardianship? I'd ask right away! MUCH easier before death. At death, nursing home will call a funeral home of their choice if no other plans are made. That may stick the estate with a larger bill than wanted.

There is a Funeral Consumer Alliance in NY you might want to sign her up for to get a low-cost funeral. They'll have helpful information.

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QUESTION: you asked "Did someone else already petition for guardianship?" that is the million dollar question.
All the time she has been living in NY all health decisions prior was made by a friend she had appointed as healthcare proxy. So during my visit I assumed everything would be taken care of by this person. When the hospital kept pressng me for decisions regarding my Aunt.I let them know that she has appointed someone. turns out the friend has nothing in writing and so the agreement was verbal.I do not know if this friend has filed for guardianship or if she has power of attorney as she did not say. She has however made decisions for her health wise because of her background in Nursing. It is possible that in my aunt's state (willingly or not) she may have given power of attorney to this person but I cannot say for sure.I am sure if she had she would have presented said document to the hospital. I do think this is why accounts cannot be found either. I feel that my showing up when I did to visit my aunt has put a spoke in someone's wheel. With regards to who the hospital thinks is responsible.  Since the hospital is now aware of my existence, they contact me directly with decisions regarding her health. My aunt will transferred to a hospice soon. I have since contacted an attorney with the hopes of getting an idea of the cost. I have limited funds as it is. I have made arrangements for a funeral home to prep her body for burial or cremation when the time comes. I will review the link you sent me ..thank you for that resource.I feel like I am going to have to sit back and let the chips fall where they may if I cannot afford the cost of filing guardianship.

I would contact the nurse in a friendly way, saying you really appreciate all her help on medical decisions and would appreciate her help on making final arrangements as she may have knowledge about your aunt's wishes. Does your aunt own a plot, for example? Assure her you want to do what's best for your aunt but have limited funds for doing so.

If she is cooperative, no lawyer will be needed.


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Lisa Carlson


Funeral Law. Having written a 512-page book on funeral law for consumers with state-by-state information, I am very conversant with consumer rights in this regard: What are the laws on disposition of cremated remains? Is embalming required? Do I have to use a funeral home? Can I have a home wake? Is it a state law to buy a vault? I prepaid for a funeral but changed my mind. They won`t give me all my money back. What can I do? . . . If you have an immediate need for information because a death has just occurred or is about to occur, you may call me at 802-482-6021.


I have monitored the funeral industry on behalf of consumers for over 20 years. I have been a guest speaker to funeral trade organizations, consumer workshops, and social service professionals. I am regularly consulted by lawyers and legislators as well as journalists.

Funeral Ethics Organization ( Funeral Consumers Alliance (

Caring for Your Own Dead (1987) Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love (1998) I Died Laughing: Funeral Education with a Light Touch (2001) Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (2011) with co-author Joshua Slocum

Masters degree in Administration and Special Education

Past/Present Clients
Available as an expert witness for funeral-related court cases.

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