Few enjoy planning their own funeral, but making those arrangements in advance for yourself may be one of the most thoughtful acts you can do for your loved ones. More and more people are including funeral planning as part of their estate plan, sparing their grieving families from having to make hasty arrangements during an already stressful time. A Remembrance and Services Memorandum will allow you to specify who should be notified of your death, provide personal information that should be mentioned in your service or obituary, indicate how your remains should be handled, and describe your wishes for your memorial service or funeral. Some people also opt to prepay their funeral expenses.
Why Does It Need to Be Written?
Death is a subject that many people do not want to talk about with their families. Consequently, although you may think that your loved ones know what kind of funeral or memorial service you want (if you want one at all) – whether you want a burial or cremation, or other information related to your funeral – there is a good chance they do not know your specific wishes. In addition to creating an additional burden for your loved ones during a stressful time, the failure to leave written instructions can set the stage for conflict between emotionally overwrought family members who may have differing beliefs about what you would have wanted regarding the disposition of your remains and memorial service.
In many states, your survivors are legally obligated to comply with your written wishes about the disposition of your remains. However, if you do not record your wishes in writing, state law will determine who will make those decisions on your behalf. Your state law indicates the hierarchy of relatives who are legally entitled to make decisions about how to handle your service and the disposition of your remains. The typical order of the hierarchy is:
- Other next of kin
- Court-appointed public administrator
If you are estranged from the person designated by state law, or if you have two children who disagree about how your service should be handled, the resulting dispute could end up in court – the last thing grieving family members should have to face after you pass away.
In addition, even close family members may have values or religious convictions that are very different from your own. Completing a Remembrance and Services Memorandum can help ensure that your family members will not have to guess about what you want, avoiding this extra burden at a difficult time.
(Putting your wishes in writing can be truly beneficial if you want unusual burial arrangements, like those discussed here or in our recent blog post.)
Why Shouldn’t I Just Include It in My Will or Trust?
Memorial or funeral services typically occur within a few days of a person’s passing, while your will or trust is not likely to be accessed or read until weeks or even months after your death. Wills and trusts are intended to deal with the distribution of your property, which is not as time-sensitive as your funeral or memorial service and the disposition of your remains. The original version of your Remembrance and Services Memorandum can be provided in advance to your attorney, the executor of your will, or the trustee of your trust, with additional copies provided to your family members, avoiding confusion or disagreements between survivors who may think you expressed other wishes elsewhere or verbally.
Should I Prepay for My Funeral?
Funerals and related arrangements can be shockingly expensive. Prepaying for your service is an option that you can consider to help your grieving loved ones avoid incurring significant debt. Also, if you prepay for your funeral arrangements, you can comparison shop just as you would when making other large purchases, without any time constraints. This will benefit your family members, who may make rushed arrangements without time to consider the cost or may make an emotion-based decision to spend a large amount of money as a means of honoring you. In addition, you can pay for the arrangements at their current prices, which may represent a substantial savings if you pass away many years in the future. Planning in advance can also ensure that you can obtain a cemetery plot or mausoleum of your choice, rather than leaving family members to hurriedly select a site that they may not have time to visit in advance.
There are some potential downsides to prepaying for your arrangements, however. If there is a possibility that you may move in the future and want to have your service in another location, you should not bind yourself to a plan that cannot be canceled or transferred without substantial additional cost. Some larger cremation service providers and funeral homes have prepaid plans that will be honored nationwide, so be sure to do your research beforehand. You should also keep in mind that the funds you pay in advance for your arrangements will not be available to you for living expenses or emergencies. In addition, there is a risk that your funeral provider will close or mishandle your funds. We can help you verify that state law provides adequate protection for the funds you have prepaid – for example, by requiring some or all of the funds to be placed in a state-regulated trust.
Note: The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule guarantees certain rights to consumers. For example, consumers have the right to choose only goods and services they want rather than a package, to be given written or verbal price lists for items and services offered by funeral providers, to be provided itemized statements showing what they are purchasing and the price of each item or service, and to have the right to use a casket or urn purchased from a vendor other than their funeral provider.
We Can Help
Making arrangements for the disposition of your remains and your memorial service in advance can provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones. We can help you memorialize your wishes in writing or update any pre-existing arrangements. Call us to set up a meeting.
Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area. For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.