We all deal with the idea of our own mortality in different ways. Some may begin pursuing the completion of a “Bucket List,” pre-designing and purchasing their own grave marker, or reconnecting with the religious faith from which they’d fallen away. In some cases, people have staged full-scale dress “rehearsals” of their own funerals, just so all of their loved ones and service providers are clear regarding their preferences for that event. If you’re concerned about the manner in which your funeral will be carried out, estate planning offers an alternative to resorting to staging a dress rehearsal of your funeral.
In some states, such as Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Utah (among others,) the law gives you the right to designate an agent who holds the authority to carry out all decisions regarding your final arrangements. Just like naming an agent (or agents) under a living will or a power of attorney, it is important to communicate clearly and carefully to make certain that the person (or people) you name as your agent(s) are clear about your preferences and will faithfully carry them out. Even if your daughter is your closest loved one, you may not want to name her as your sole funeral planning agent if she wants your remains to be interred in sacred ground somewhere, but you want your ashes scattered at sea.
In other states, such as West Virginia, Vermont, Oklahoma, Indiana and Illinois (among others,) you not only have the right to appoint an agent to make decisions regarding your final arrangements, you can also expressly state your wishes. Some of these forms allow you to include considerable detail. The Indiana declaration, for example, contains specific sections where you can state whether you will be buried, cremated or entombed and what mortuary will provide your funeral services. You can also include instructions for ceremonial arrangements and your grave memorial. If you prefer, you can also simply elect to leave all decisions in the hands of your agent.
In some states, this agent designation or declaration of directives may be contained in a larger legal document, such as a healthcare power of attorney or a living will; in others, they are placed in a separate document. It is important to make sure you are working with an experienced estate planning legal team so that you can be confident that the documents you sign meet your state’s statutory requirements and will carry the legal authority needed to do what you want. Also, just like any other part of your estate plan, it is vital to make sure that your funeral planning documents work “in synch” with the rest of your plan and are reviewed routinely and updated as needed.
Summary: For some people, one of the most important aspects of their end-of-life planning revolves around their funeral and other final arrangements. Fortunately, the laws in many states allow you to create a legal document through which you can take control over your final arrangements. Just as with any other part of estate planning, it is important to consider these decisions carefully before making your choices and work with the right legal team to make sure that your plan will make your desires come to fruition.