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Funeral planning for estate planners: 5 items to consider

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Many clients are meticulous about planning out what will happen to their assets for decades after they are gone from this earth. But it can be harder to plan what happens in the immediate aftermath of their death: their funeral and the disposal of their remains. Those can be difficult conversations to have, both with their family and with their financial advisors.

But they are very important to have long before they become necessary. No one wants their grieving family to also have to suddenly plan and pay for a funeral. Here are five of the tricky decisions a client needs to make long before they get elderly.

(1) Decide how the funeral will be paid for. Any estate plan should include provisions that address payment for the client’s funeral. Options include a life insurance policy made payable to an irrevocable trust to avoid estate taxes on the proceeds, or setting up a separate bank account just for that purpose. An estate attorney can advise you, based on your circumstances. Include your intentions in your will or trust documents.

Prepaid funeral plans have become popular and may seem to make things easy on the heirs, but they can have their drawbacks. The client may move and end up wishing to be buried in some other place. If the client survives for a long time after paying for the funeral, the funeral home could go out of business.

(2) Leave written instructions for how the funeral will be conducted.

If the client doesn’t write down his or her funeral wishes, it’s possible that individual state laws will determine who gets to make the decision for you. Most states follow this order:

  • Spouse

  • Children

  • Parents

  • Next of kin

  • Public administrator designated by a court

This can be a huge problem if, for example, the children disagree about what should happen, or if there is some other trusted person the clients thinks should be making these decisions. Putting the client’s wishes in writing solves all those problems.

(3) Determine what needs to be in a funeral plan. There are two basic considerations: What is to be done with the body, and what sort of ceremony the client would like to have.

Disposal includes:

  • Whether the body will be preserved, cremated, or donated to science

  • The facility where you wish to be buried or cremated

  • The type of container you wish to be buried or cremated in; and

  • How your remains will be transported to the facility you select

If the client wants to be cremated, he or she should be aware that it must be requested in a witnessed will, a health-care power of attorney, a living will, or a last letter of instruction. Distributing ashes in a public area, such as on a mountain or across a beach, might require a permit.

Choices for the ceremony include:

  • Viewing. An opportunity for family and friends to view or sit with your body, usually at a funeral home or mortuary, but possibly at the client’s church or home.

  • Funeral.  A formal, tradition ceremony, usually held in a funeral home or a church. The client may want to include a religious ceremony, and members of fraternal organizations or other groups may want a service that includes rites from those.

  • Wake. A less formal celebration and remembrance of the decedent, a wake can be held at a home, a mortuary, or other gathering place such as a restaurant or meeting hall.

  • Memorial ceremony. A memorial ceremony is less formal than a funeral, usually held after the burial or cremation, so the body is not usually present. Memorial ceremonies may be held anywhere — a mortuary, religious building, restaurant, even outdoors. But none of this will happen if the client doesn’t make his or her wishes known.

(4) Store your information in a safe but accessible place. The client’s written preferences should be in a secure location; the estate planner’s office isn’t a bad place. A safe deposit box, because it might be difficult to access them in a timely manner after the client’s death. Make sure that the client’s family knows where these instructions are.

(5) Don’t just “file them and forget them.” People change, finances change, fashions change, and funeral plans change. Don’t be afraid to remind your clients to think again about their funeral plans — they’ll probably appreciate the foresight.

See also:

100 reasons final expense insurance is an opportunity you can’t afford to overlook