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Plan ahead - and plan your funeral now

Posted: November 13, 2008 5:48 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 4:59 a.m.
Disputes among family members can arise when funeral arrangements are made after the death of a relative. Everyone may be trying to do the right thing, but disagreements and anger can continue long after the funeral. Families in our American culture don't want to talk about death, especially in advance.

We won't face the fact that the death rate remains at 100 percent. As a result, when a family member dies, we end up arguing about the arrangements - people want to do the right thing, but they don't agree on what that is.

Families end up making guilt-laden decisions and overspending for funeral and burial arrangements.

To avoid this in the future, you and other family members must do some advance planning. While this is not necessarily talking about prepaying for funeral and burial arrangements, it is a way of making sure your family knows what type of burial and arrangements you want taken care of at your death. If you want to have a handy form to use in letting others know what you want done at your death, provides a form you can print out and fill in. It would be best to keep this form with your other estate planning documents.

By using the form, you write down your wishes on things like:

n The location of any services,

n Who should conduct any services,

n The content,length and timing of services,

n Your burial location,

n If cremated, what to do with your ashes,

n Caskets and vaults,

n Clothing and jewelry you would wear,

n Pallbearers,

n Music and readings,

n Who should be notified,

n Receptions and gatherings before or after services,

n Memorials, tombstones and markers,

n How services and burial should be paid for,

You should set aside adequate money in a joint account or pay-on-death account with your bank. That way, when you die, the joint account holder or pay-on-death beneficiary should be able to immediately access the funds. Make sure to let others know about these arrangements. If possible, ask the bank to make a notation on the account stating it is a "burial account." Ask them to place this identification where it shows your name and that of the joint account holder.

Funeral homes provide advance-planning services and will help you with investigating options and pricing.

In this "pre-need planning" they will offer a prearrangement contract and combine it with a way to pay in advance (e.g. an insurance policy or burial trust). Note that only those items within the control of the funeral home can be covered by its arrangement (they can't lock in grave opening and closing costs, flowers, etc.). You can prepay an amount to cover these expenses. However, there may be a price differential to pay at the time the burial actually occurs.

Gina MacDonald's practice is limited to estate planning, probate and elder law. She maintains her practice in the Santa Clarita Valley. Her column reflects her own view, and not necessarily that of The Signal. "It's the Law" appears Fridays and rotates among members of the SCV Bar Association.


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