Planning your own funeral may seem like a daunting task, but it is also an area rife with problems for surviving family members. We often think about how an estate plan may affect our loved ones and whether it will create strife. However, particularly when a parent dies, siblings may have trouble determining how “nice” the funeral ought to be, the appropriate budget, and how to come up with the money. With emotions running high in grief-stricken children and time pressure to complete planning, long-standing resentments may form during the process of paying for the funeral. Indeed, even formerly close siblings may exclude one child from the service altogether or demand payment from a sibling who was excluded from decisions. In order to avoid this situation, it is helpful to plan and pay for your own funeral, and inform the children of the plan!
In the first week following a death in the family, surviving members generally plan and hold the funeral, memorial service, or other arrangements. This includes arranging and paying for cremation or burial and securing a location in which to store the remains, whether it be an urn, crypt, or plot of land. Additionally, the family must make arrangements with religious institutions and professionals, florists, and more. All of this is done prior to the involvement of an attorney who, during the administration of the trust or estate, may be able to mediate. Although the timing of these needs cannot be pre-planned, many of the services can be prepaid. By doing so, you can ensure that a tasteful celebration of your life is held in a manner that does not put strain on your family members and is something of which you approve.
Of course, none of this pre-planning is useful unless your family members are aware that it has been done. Often plots and crypts become estate assets because no one knew they were purchased until after other arrangements were made. These assets are difficult to transfer and sell and, often, are not repurchased by the facility for full value. As a result, beneficiaries are left holding onto the asset. Similarly, if funeral arrangements have been prepaid, it can be difficult for heirs to obtain a refund for the advance fees. It may be helpful to include your instructions and the information about any services or items for which you have paid with the rest of your estate planning documents, detailed in your Advance Healthcare Directive, or included in a letter to trustee.
Although the probate or trust estate is ultimately responsible for funeral costs and last illness expenses, it is often difficult for the trustee, and especially executors, to obtain access to the funds in time to make payment arrangements themselves. If you do not wish to plan your own arrangements, however, there may be options available for you to leave readily accessible funds to your heirs. You may wish to speak to your estate planning attorney or the professionals at a funeral home to learn your options.
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