New Jersey Law Addresses Right of Control

March 4, 2013 Updated: October 1, 2015


A Bugler plays 'Taps' during the funeral of Army Sergeant Aaron X. Wittman February 8, 2013 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, family ties are not what they used to be, so a little-known New Jersey statute clarifies who is responsible for making funeral arrangements when a loved one dies.

The days of families living close to one another and sharing every moment are passé due to our ever evolving world and economic circumstances. A once tight-knit family may find themselves moving farther and farther apart because the opportunities are better in another part of the world.

In some instances, for one reason or another, people just don’t get along with one another, which causes animosity and estranged relationships—not to mention the arguments over what the decedent would have wanted.

Although families are usually brought back together when loved ones die, the tension between some family members can lead to arguments about how the arrangements for the funeral should be done, who should take care of them, and who should be notified.

If the decedent left a Will with specific instructions, these questions are easily answered. Where there is no Will, New Jersey has delineated in a statute the order of who can control the funeral and disposition of the remains.

N.J.S.A. 45:27-22 designates control first to the surviving spouse, civil union partner, or domestic partner. If there is a temporary or permanent restraining order against the surviving spouse, civil union partner, or domestic partner; or one of them is charged with intentionally killing the decedent, the right of control passes in this order:

     1.  A majority of the surviving adult children of the decedent,

     2.  The surviving parent(s) of the decedent,

     3.  A majority of the surviving brothers and sisters of the decedent,

     4.  Other next of kin of the decedent according to consanguinity (blood relationship),

     5.  If there are no other living relatives,  a cemetery may rely on the written authorization of any other person acting on behalf of the decedent (i.e. funeral director, a person who claims to have right of control).

The New Jersey law was updated in February 2010 to include civil union partners and domestic partners.

Check the laws in your state or speak to a local attorney for guidance on how to handle this matter in your family. The law that will likely apply is the law of the state where the decedent will be buried.

Information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice nor applicable to all situations. For legal assistance, contact an attorney in your state of residence. You can visit Arleen’s website at

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