Many cultures have funeral traditions unique to them. Other cultures may find these traditions to be unnecessary, frivolous or even distasteful. But whether those traditions are a necessary part of a funeral ceremony are rarely decided in a probate court case.
In a case that involved this issue, which had never been heard before, the Ohio Court of Appeals, the Executrix of her mother’s estate filed a claim for $1800 in expenses for a luncheon held after the funeral. The probate court decided that the expenses should not be reimbursed out of the estate.
The daughter filed an appeal with the higher court which considered the expense in detail. First, the court recognized that Ohio law allows reimbursement for any expense that is reasonable. The question then became whether the luncheon after the funeral was a reasonable expense.
One of the issues considered was the fact that the family was Polish and the funeral luncheon is a cultural tradition after the funeral. The mother’s will had specified that funds from her estate be used to pay funeral expenses and the court held that this was a funeral expense. The court went so far as to look at legal definitions of the term “funeral expense” and found that the definition would include the entire process, including a traditional luncheon.
The court also looked at the law which spelled out several specific funeral expenses but did not exclude others. The fact that the luncheon is a custom seemed to be a key factor in the court’s decision. It is not unusual for a court to decide issues like this on a case-by-case basis.
One possible solution to the conflict the daughter had to go through to get the expense approved is to consult an estate planning attorney when writing the will and discuss tradition, whether cultural or just within the family. The attorney may advise that such traditions be specifically written into the will so there is no question whether the deceased intended for this expense to be authorized. In most cases, a will can specify anything that isn’t illegal. So having an estate planning attorney carefully draft a will that itemizes these desires can be very important in avoiding the waste of estate assets on a court case over an $1800 luncheon.