An heir, which is short for heir at law, is anyone entitled to receive assets of a person who dies without a Will. When someone dies without a Will, the legal term is that they died INTESTATE. Generally, the order of heirs of a person who has died intestate is:
1. Surviving Spouse
2. Children, INCLUDING children from decedent’s prior marriage
This order is the same order used for selecting the individual to be named Personal Representative (decision maker) and who has the authority to spend the deceased’s money for a funeral.
A beneficiary or devisee is anyone or any entity called out in a Will. When someone dies with a Will the legal term is that they died TESTATE, and have executed a document which is formally known as a Last Will and Testament. Wills specifically call out the name of the person the deceased wants to be the Personal Representative and has authority to spend the deceased’s money for a funeral.
Whoever ends up this decision maker, can avoid a lot of headache by contacting the other major individual heirs or beneficiaries before spending the estate’s money on funeral arrangements. If someone dies and only has $15,000 in assets some heirs or beneficiaries may not be happy about a $10,000 casket and service. Try to get a quick idea of assets by looking at bank statements for all accounts owned by the deceased.
When working with a funeral home or crematorium please know they understand that it may take some time to free up assets of the estate to pay them. They may make you sign a contract outlining the services, costs and an agreement to pay, but are generally patient when funds need to come from an opened estate. If they demand payment up front, go somewhere else. Many funeral homes and crematoriums list their prices for various service options on their websites. Don’t be shy to visit the website before speaking with someone in person and see what kind of help you want them to provide and get a general idea of what it’s going to cost.