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Funeral Arrangement Planning

Question: My wife and I have completed our powers of attorney, wills, and health care powers of attorney. At our lawyer’s suggestion, we put our desires concerning our funerals in our wills. After we left his office, we became concerned that our wills might not be available in time since he told us to put them in our safe deposit box. When we called him, he told us to give a copy of our wills to our closest child so that she will know our desires, but she lives 500 miles away. We want to make sure our wishes are carried out. Is there a better way?

Answer: Disputes over funeral and burial arrangements are more common than most think, especially where, for example, a second spouse is pit against the children of the first marriage or children disagree on the arrangements. In our view, the second best way to make sure your funeral and burial plans are followed is to make them known to your family members, and the best way is to preplan your arrangements with the funeral home of your choice while you are able to do so.

Almost all funeral homes will help you preplan your service and burial arrangements, including cremation, while you are alive. In this way, you can avoid potential family disputes, remove a burden from grieving family members, negotiate your last rights with a clear mind without being rushed or pressured, and make sure your instructions are carried out by stating them in writing and arranging payment in advance.

If you and your wife have burial insurance policies, think about either assigning them to the funeral home or making the funeral home the beneficiary. At a minimum, let your personal representative or chosen family members and the funeral know where these policies can be found. Otherwise, your funeral may be paid for before anyone discovers that your policies even exist. If you are a veteran, check into benefits that may be available and make sure a copy of your military papers is available so that the claim can be made timely.

If you choose to put directions about your last rights in your will, you may want to use a codicil (which is an amendment or addition to your will) that contains only your funeral and burial instructions. You should give your codicil to the funeral home or such other person you may appoint to be in charge of your arrangements. Check with your lawyer to see if the law in your state protects a personal representative or funeral home acting according to burial instructions contained in a will or codicil.

But remember: If you change your mind about your arrangements and do not change your will or codicil, the conflict between the written document and subsequent oral instructions will surely cause a problem. Therefore, any changes you make should be put in writing, delivered to appropriate persons, and the outdated documents should be picked up and destroyed.

If you wish to be an organ donor or to leave your body to a medical school, you should contact the medical organization, receive a donor card which should be kept with you, and tell your family about your directions.

Taking The NextStep: As part of the process of planning for incapacity and estate matters, you should consider making your funeral arrangements. In this way, you and your family will know in advance both your desires and the cost. This is the best way to avoid potential disputes and last-minute overspending by grief-stricken relatives.

Need more advice or help with this topic? Click here to get information about taking the "Next Step".

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