FAMILY DISPUTE OVER FUNERAL EXPENSES
A widow who had children by her first husband married a widower who had children by his first wife. This second husband died and then his second wife died. The sons of the second husband refuse to pay the funeral bill for their stepmother and sent the bill to her sons by her first husband. This created ill feelings in the community. How could the matter be justly settled according to Jewish law? (Asked by J. E.)
The law is clear that the second husband, if he had survived his second wife, was in duty bound by law to bury her. The law is stated in Shulhan Arukh (Even Haezer 89:1) that the husband must pay, not only the funeral expenses, but also for the tombstone. But what if the second husband pre-deceases his second wife, as happened in this case? Are his sons (her step-sons) in duty bound to bury her? According to the Shulhan Arukh (Even Haezer 89:4) they are not bound if she, as in this case, outlives her second husband. Then her burial expenses are to be paid for from her ketubah, i.e., from the formal dowry which she inherits from her husband.
However, this ruling is not practical nowadays. The amount of the ketubah (which is one hundred zuz for a widow) amounts in modem money to $15, and even with the addition to the formal amount which it is customary to add to the ketubah, the total amount would be utterly inadequate for the funeral expenses. Since, after all the money for the ketubah comes from his estate, it is logical that the sons, who inherit the estate, should pay the expenses of the funeral. As a matter of fact, as great an authority as Maimonides (Yad Hil. Ishut 18:6) says that it is the duty of her second husband’s heirs to provide for the funeral (even though Abraham ben David in his Notes, disagrees with Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh follows the opinion of Abraham ben David). So it is reasonable to conclude that nowadays it is the duty of the husband’s heirs to pay for the funeral.
But there is one element of the funeral expenses for which the stepsons are not liable, namely, the cost of the grave. As to who provides the grave or, more specifically, where she is to be burled, the established custom is clear that a twice-married woman is to be buried with the husband with whom she had children. (See the authorities cited by Greenwald in his I(ol Bo (page 188.) Therefore if there is a grave available near where her first husband is buried, if, for example, they have a family plot, then her own children should provide the grave and the heirs of her second husband should pay the funeral expenses.
Since writing the above, I was informed that even nowadays the dowry may sometimes actually come to a considerable amount because the courts in New York have calculated in certain cases, the “addition to the dowries,” and these may occasionally amount to quite a sum. Of course, in such special cases, the heirs of the deceased wife (namely her own children who inherit the money of her dowry) should pay for the funeral, as is stated in the Shulkhan Arukh. However, in most cases the dowry money as stated above, amounts to so little that we must follow the opinion of Maimonides and have the funeral paid for from the estate of the second husband.