Thinking about your funeral may not be fun- but planning ahead can be exceedingly helpful for your family. It both lets them know your wishes and assists them during a stressful time. The following are steps you can take to plan ahead:
- Name who is in charge. The first step is to designate someone to make funeral arrangements for you. State law dictates how that appointment is made. In some states- an informal note is enough. Other states require you to designate someone in a formal document- such as a health care power of attorney. If you do not designate someone- your spouse or children are usually given the task. Virginia Code Section 54.1-2825 permits the appointment of an agent to make final arrangement decisions. We recommend that you create this as a stand-alone document- separate from your power of attorney or health care power of attorney or advance directive- which should be signed (and notarized) by you and by the person you are appointing as your final arrangement decision maker. Such a document can be especially important in cases of a second or later life marriage where you may want one of your children to make your final arrangements rather than your spouse- or when you might be in a long term committed relationship with someone who is not your spouse- but whom you would want to be able to take charge of your final arrangements.
- Put your preferences in writing. Write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Where should the funeral or memorial be held? The document can also include information about who should be invited- what you want to wear- who should speak- what music should be played- and who should be pallbearers- among other information. The writing can be a separate document or part of a health care directive. It should not be included in your will because the will may not be opened until long after the funeral.
- Shop around. It is possible to make arrangements with a funeral home ahead of time- so your family does not have to scramble to set things up while they are grieving. Prices among funeral homes can vary greatly- so it is a good idea to check with a few different ones before settling on the one you want. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to supply customers with a general price list that details prices for all possible goods or services. The rule also stipulates what kinds of misrepresentations are prohibited and explains what items consumers cannot be required to purchase- among other things.
- Inform your family members. Make sure you tell your family members about your wishes and let them know where you have written them down.
- Figure out how to pay for it. Funerals are expensive- so you need to think about how to pay for the one you want. You can pre-pay- but this is risky because the funds can be mismanaged or the funeral home could go out of business. Instead of paying ahead- you can set up a payable-on-death account with your bank. Make the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans). You will maintain control of your money while you are alive- but when you die it is available immediately- without having to go through probate. Another option is to purchase a life insurance policy that is specifically for funeral arrangements.
Taking the time to plan ahead will be a big help to your family and give you peace of mind.
See more information on planning your funeral from Kiplinger.