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Laws on service member funeral arrangements unclear

A legislator wants state law to clarify who makes final decisions about what's done with the remains of service members who die on active duty, saying that confusion can lead to lawsuits.

HB 2400, authored by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, is part of a national push by the U.S. Department of Defense to have states recognize the person named in a service member's emergency data form as the authority on final arrangements.

State law doesn't recognize the federal form, called DD Form 93, in designating who is responsible for a person's final arrangements, something that Sinema said has led to disputes among family members.

"If one service member's wishes are disrespected, then that's enough to warrant the change," Sinema said.

The bill received unanimous support in the House and was awaiting action in the Senate.

All service members are required to fill out a DD Form 93 every year on their birthdays and every time they change duty stations or deploy. It lists, among other things, next of kin, those who would receive the service member's benefits and who would be responsible for making final arrangements.

Laurie Crehan, state liaison for the Department of Defense, said that's led to disagreements in states without laws recognizing the form, sometimes involving angry parents and estranged spouses.

"There were cases where the person named was not the highest person on the state list," Crehan said. "If a service member had listed parents, then the spouse may sue for rights."

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Kathy Pearce, a Valley-based advocate with the Wounded Warrior Resource Center and Heroes for Hometowns, said she had mixed feelings about the legislation.

Pearce said states should honor the wishes of service members, but she added that service members sometimes don't list the appropriate person.

"They're young and they fill it out but don't think it'll happen to them," Pearce said. "They put down their buddy Joe and don't realize the complications if something happens."

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Current law

Arizona law sets the following priority for those responsible for final arrangements of someone who has died. If the person is married, the surviving spouse is responsible unless the couple is legally separated or a petition has been filed for a separation or divorce.

If the person isn’t married, the following individuals are held, if able and willing, responsible for final arrangements:

  • A person who has power of attorney.
  • The parents of a minor.
  • Adult children.
  • Parents.
  • Adult siblings.
  • Adult grandchild.
  • Grandparents.
  • An adult who exhibited special care.
  • A person acting as a guardian or any other person who has authority to dispose of the body.

Proposed law

Arizona Legislature: HB2400