Planning Ahead

Pre-planning a Funeral

Why plan ahead? 
Planning ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. Preplanning a funeral can offer family members peace of mind, as well as the opportunity to plan a meaningful funeral that reflects the unique life of the individual. Talking with your loved ones about those plans allows you to share  your final wishes about the service and disposition you desire, and gives you the opportunity to compare the prices offered by several funeral providers.  Planning ahead eliminates the stress of making these decisions under the pressure of time and strong emotions.

An important consideration when pre-planning a funeral is deciding on a method of disposition. If you wish to be buried it’s in your best interest to buy a cemetery plot in advance. The same would be suggested for those interested in being entombed in a mausoleum or crypt. In terms of cremation or alkaline hydrolysis, it’s important to decide if you would like your remains to be scattered, inurned, etc.

You may wish to make decisions about your arrangements in advance, but not pay for them in advance. Keep in mind that over time, prices may go up and businesses may close or change ownership. However, in some areas with increased competition, prices may go down over time. It’s a good idea to review and revise your decisions every few years, and to make sure your family is aware of your wishes. Discuss the pre-planning options with your funeral professional and the benefit of prepayment or insurance policy assignment to cover the expenses at the time of death.

Write down your preferences
Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members and your attorney, and keep a copy in a handy place. You should not designate your preferences in your will, because a will often is not found or read until after the funeral. You should also avoid placing the only copy of your preferences in a safe deposit box, in the event that the box cannot be opened until after the funeral. Be sure to tell your family about the plans you’ve made and let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn’t aware that you’ve made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don’t know that you’ve prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements.

Meet with a funeral director
Meeting with a National Funeral Directors Association-licensed funeral director is a good way to ensure you have all of the information you need to make informed decisions, and that your wishes are carried out. Funeral homes will assist you with every detail of pre-planning and/or pre-funding a funeral.

Before making any decisions on preplanning and/or prefunding funeral goods or services, or signing a preneed funeral contract, ask any and all questions you may have. An ethical and reputable funeral home will ensure the following rights and protections to consumers:

-Provide you with detailed price lists of goods and services before you make your selections.

-Provide to you, at the conclusion of the funeral arrangement conference, a written statement listing all of the goods and services you have purchased and the price.

-Give you a written preneed funeral contract explaining, in plain language, your rights and obligations.

-Guarantee in the contract that if any of the goods or services you have selected are not available at the time of need, goods and services of equal or greater value will be substituted at no extra cost.

-Explain in the contract the geographical boundaries of the funeral home’s service area and under what circumstances you can transfer the preneed contract to another funeral home if you were to relocate, or if the death were to occur outside of the service area.

-State in the contract where and how much of the funds you pay will be deposited until the funeral is provided.

-Explain in the contract who will be responsible for paying taxes on any income or interest generated by the preneed funds that are invested.

-Inform you in the contract whether, and to what extent, the funeral home will guarantee the price of goods and services you are purchasing. If the prices are not guaranteed, the contract will explain who is responsible for any additional amounts that may be due at the time of the funeral.

-Explain in the contract whether and under what circumstances you may cancel your preneed contract and how much of the funds you paid will be refunded.

Estate Planning

If you have thought about planning your final wishes, chances are you’ve begun other important aspects of estate planning. As you probably know, there’s more to estate planning than making your final wishes known and selecting beneficiaries to your estate. Estate planning also means deciding who will manage your business and legal affairs if you ever become incapacitated.

Power(s) of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives another person the legal authority to act for you. The Power of Attorney can cover simple tasks like writing or endorsing checks, or it can involve more complex matters like selling real estate. The Power of Attorney can be very specific or very general. You can authorize just one task, like selling a car. Or, you can give your agent the power to do everything you can now do for yourself. Your attorney will be able to help you understand how you can tailor the Power of Attorney to fit your wishes and needs. Power(s) of Attorney cease to be valid upon death, thus it may be beneficial to consider creating a Trust as part of an estate plan. The are four types of Power of Attorney. The type you choose will depend on how much authority you want your agent to have, when you want your agent to start acting on your behalf, and when you want your agent’s authority to come to an end.

Limited Power of Attorney

Through a limited Power of Attorney, you authorize another person to do specific things for you for a limited period of time, or in certain circumstances. The limited Power of Attorney ends if you become incapacitated or die. It also could end at a time that you specify in the document.

General Power of Attorney

A general Power of Attorney gives another person the authority to do whatever you can do. Think very carefully before signing this type of document as it should be used sparingly. This document ends when you become incapacitated or die.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable Power of Attorney authorizes your agent to continue to act for you after you become incapacitated. This document ends at your death. It can take effect as soon as you sign it. A Springing Power of Attorney can be written so it goes into effect if you become incapacitated. Be very careful to define clearly exactly how others will determine that the “springing event” has occurred.

Financial and Medical Powers of Attorney

You will probably want separate Powers of Attorney for finances and health care. Within each legal document, you specify the terms your chosen agent must follow in carrying out your wishes. A durable Financial Power of Attorney allows your agent to carry out financial tasks for you when you cannot do so. This might include paying your bills, managing your property, and handling other money matters. A durable Medical Power of Attorney lets your agent make medical decisions for you when you can’t make these decisions.

Establishing A Trust
A Trust is established with the help of your attorney and allows your successor Trustee, whomever you identify, to act on your behalf for the life of the Trust (as if he/she were you), especially after your death.

Trusts are an excellent way to protect your estate and assets. After establishing a Trust, you must fund the Trust by transferring property from your name into the Trust name. Seek legal advise where necessary to create a Trust/Estate Plan.

Choosing Your Agent(s) or Trustee(s)
You can assign your Power of Attorney Agent or Successor Trustee to the person of your choosing. Your agent does not have to be an attorney, but should be someone you can trust. It might be your daughter, or your brother, sister, spouse or partner. Be sure to ask an attorney to draw up the documents.

Don’t be concerned that your agent will “take over” or that you won’t be able to make your own decisions. Think of a Power of Attorney as giving someone a second set of keys. You will still have your own keys, but your agent will have keys, too. You can take the agent’s keys back any time you want, by revoking the Power of Attorney.