Summary: Few events can be more emotionally traumatic than funeral and related arrangements. It behooves everyone to plan ahead and endeavor to make their wishes known. Just letting your loved ones know what you want will often be inadequate. They may not remember, others may have different understandings of your wishes and worse.
√ Service and Memorial: Do you want a particular type of service? Should any specific limitations be placed on what should be done? Consider the impact on those you leave behind.
√ Burial or Interment: Where should you be buried, or interred? If you have had multiple marriages and perhaps children with several spouses, indicating what you do and don’t want can prevent a terrible fight after you pass away. If you can purchase a family plot, or designate a specific cemetery, try to do so. The more details the better.
√ Living Will: State in a living will what wishes you have for religious matters, funeral, last rights, etc. This document confirms a statement of your wishes.
√Letter of Instruction: Consider writing a personal letter of instruction with all the personal details of your wishes. Too often the smaller details of what you want are inappropriate to include in a legal document. The explanations of what you hope for survivors, why you want certain requests met, etc. all should be in a personal letter and rarely in a legal document. Google “ethical wills” and consider what types of messages and personal thoughts you’d like to share and leave behind. Your personal letter is a great place to do this.
√Health Care Proxy: This is also called a medical power of attorney. You need to designate an agent to implement end of life decisions if you cannot make them on your own. Name one person to serve at a time, not joint agents. Discuss your wishes with the people you wish to name in advance and honestly assess whether they will in fact be able to carry out your desires. Will personal or religious differences prevent them from acting as you wish?
√Will: A will is almost always found after death so that it is not the primary document people will be able to refer to in order to ascertain your wishes. So why list anything? Because indicating in your will what you want done will authorize your executor to pay for the costs of it. If you are a Hindu and wish to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges, the costs involved will have to be paid for by your estate and may be costly. Authorizing these types of plans in your will makes it clear that your executor has the authority to pay for these.
√Deductions: Amounts paid for funeral expenses are allowed as deductions for estate tax purposes. These amounts must be actually expended. They must be properly allowable to be paid out of the property subject to claims under applicable state law. These costs must also satisfy the requirements of paragraph (c) of §20.2053-1. A reasonable expenditure for a tombstone, monument, or mausoleum, or for a burial lot, either for the decedent or his family, including a reasonable expenditure for its future care, may be deducted if allowable by state law. Included in funeral expenses is the cost of transportation of the person bringing the body to the place of burial. Treas. Reg. Sec. 20.2053-2.
√Organ Donations: Address these in a donor card and in your living will. Be clear as to whether any organ and tissue can be donated, or only certain ones. Can they be donated from scientific research or only for transplant.
√Donating your Body To Science: If you wish to help medical research you can donate your body to science. This process requires some advance planning and documentation. Try speaking with the institution you plan to donate to and get their advice in advance.
√Religious Issues: You must specifically address religious issues. Whether you have a particular set of beliefs, or not, you need to confirm what your wishes are. Never assume that your family or loved ones know. Religious issues can be incredibly sensitive and there is tremendous variation in observances, differing customs, and personal wishes. Don’t leave it to chance, or worse for your heirs to fight about. Specify what religion you were raised in if any, what religion you presently observe, how that should be applied to end of life and burial or related decisions, and what specific differences or variations you wish.
Subscribe to our email list to receive information on consumer webcasts and blogs, for practical legal information in simple English, delivered to your inbox. For more professional driven information, please visit Shenkman Law to subscribe.