By Steven Merkel
None of us likes to think of death, but it is one of the inevitable things in life and should be considered when doing your estate planning. Unexpected death will cause a lot of family emotion, which could lead to hasty decisions and possible financial tension within a family. By drafting a final arrangements document, you can help avoid this as it allows you to put your final wishes down on paper to help your loved ones make difficult decisions according to your wishes.
There is no legal or formal outline for a final arrangements document. It is simply a guide for your estate executor and family to follow in order to honor your wishes and familiarize them with existing services that you might have already paid for and prearranged.
You should start first by organizing your thoughts into how you want your estate to be distributed when the time comes. Sometimes discussing the specific needs of other family members is an ideal approach to initiate the process. You might want to list the names, addresses and contact numbers of your immediate family members and the executor of your estate, since these will most likely be the individuals who will implement your wishes. (To learn more, see Estate Planning: 16 Things To Do Before You Die.)
Burial or Cremation Instructions
In this part of your final arrangements document, you should state what you would like done with your remains: will you be buried or cremated? Then cover the topics listed under your selection as follows:
- Name and address of the cemetery
- Specifics on your burial plots
- Selection of a specific type of casket
- Mortuary or funeral home
- Transportation to the burial site
- Burial markers, pallbearers and epitaph
- Organ donation
- Preferences for ceremonies
- Name and address of the cremation facility
- Storage place for the body prior to cremation
- Preparing the body for the cremation site
- Transportation to the cremation site
- Arrangements to have the cremains buried or interred
- Selecting after-death ceremonies
A wake or funeral is a way for your family and friends to say goodbye to you, to give comfort to one another and to grieve. Decisions that you might want to consider for these ceremonies might be open or closed casket, invitation list, location and preferences for your eulogy and other readings.
At the Burial Site
In addition to holding a ceremony prior to burial, you might have your religious leader, pastor, priest, etc., give a few words of prayer or farewell at the actual burial site. This type of ceremony might also be appropriate at a cremation ritual before the ashes are scattered or interred. If you want specifics, such as the speaker or what should be said, you should list your wishes in your document.
Many family members elect to have a gathering or reception for everyone or select individuals after the burial or scattering of the ashes to allow family members and friends to come together for conversation and support. This can be held anywhere you desire, but common places are in a church, a restaurant or even in a home. If you have a preference, you should list it here.
Obituary and Special Requests
An obituary is also known as a "death notice," is typically published in a short paragraph in your local newspaper shortly following your death. It typically contains your name, age, city of residence, survivors and a brief biography of your life. It may also include the location, date and time of your funeral and your wishes for charitable donations instead of flowers.
If you have preferred charities or specific things that you would like mentioned in your obituary, you should make sure that you share your wishes here. Some people prefer to write their own obituary or provide helpful details to their survivors so they can write one for you. If this is the case for you, this is the perfect document for you to do this.
Payment for Arrangements
You have several options for payment of your final arrangements, but we'll discuss the four most common methods of payment:
- Prepayment in Lump Sum: You make arrangements and pay up front for the services.
- Prepayment in Installments: You make the arrangements and agree to a payment plan over time with the providers.
- Executor Directive: As per your will, you set aside money to cover your final arrangement costs and your executor arranges to pay your service providers after the ceremonies.
- Do Nothing: In this scenario, you've most likely spoken with your beneficiaries and asked them to pay for the cost of your arrangements with their portion of the inheritance.
In addition to your final arrangements document, you should attach any prepaid funeral arrangements, casket, burial plot and other important documents to help facilitate the process for the person(s) arranging the services. This document should be signed and dated by you upon completion; notarization is not necessary as this is not a legal binding document of any sort.
Copies of this document should go to your executor, or the person most likely to handle your final arrangements. A copy should also be stored in a safe place at your home. If you are keeping this document in your home, it should be in a place that someone would immediately look in the event of your death - a safe-deposit box at your bank is not a good choice. The more useful the information you provide in this document, the better. Most survivors take the greatest comfort in attending a ceremony that most accurately reflects the wishes and personality of the deceased person.
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