Hundreds of laws are passed by the Michigan Legislature each year on issues ranging from CPR instruction to morel mushroom hunting. It’s easy to assume that these new laws won’t have much impact on our lives.

In terms of sheer numbers, that attitude is understandable. For the past two sessions of the Legislature, more than 1,600 bills were introduced and more than 250 are passed annually. Because a majority of those bills are narrowly focused, we rely on the media to inform us about the few new laws dealing with hot button issues that impact us all.

But I was reminded recently of the impact on my clients of new laws that have received scant or no media attention. Consequently, I’ll try to use my blog to cover some of the ongoing changes in Michigan Family and Estate Planning Law with the hopes that readers will benefit from the updated knowledge.

One relatively new law is MCL 700.3206 that allows any adult in the state of Michigan to appoint another adult to plan his or her funeral. At first blush, it would seem that only a small group of people would infrequently find a use for the new law, but I’ve been quite surprised by how many of my clients already have applied it to their lives.

Recently an unmarried couple in their early 30s asked me about their legal options regarding a number of issues, including the planning of their funerals. Neither of their immediate families approved of their relationship, so my clients wanted to make sure that the survivor of them could plan the other’s funeral.

Under the old law, the immediate families would have planned the funeral. Next of kin had rights to plan the deceased's funeral in the following order: spouse, adult children, adult grandchildren, parents, siblings. It was next to impossible to appoint a non-family member to plan your funeral before the new law was passed.

Under the new law, a Funeral Representative can be appointed through a will or a stand-alone document. The Funeral Representative has first priority to plan the funeral, followed by next of kin in the sequence stipulated under the old law.

I’ve already seen how well this new law can serve to resolve a number of potential family situations. A forward-thinking individual whose spouse has died can appoint a Funeral Representative when he or she knows the surviving two adult children -- who have equal priority -- will not be able to work together to plan the funeral.

By appointing a Funeral Representative, a divorced individual can head off other problems. Under the new law, a divorced person can designate a long time girlfriend or boyfriend as the Funeral Representative, instead of following the next-of-kin sequence under the old law. A divorced person who has remarried can also designate a Funeral Representative such as an adult child from the prior marriage. Under the old law, the new spouse -- no matter how new -- would have priority over adult children.

I’ll strive to keep readers of my column informed on similar new laws, and I encourage anyone to contact me with questions about new legislation that may have an impact on them.

Mike Toburen - Attorney at Law   

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Attorney Mike Toburen

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