Planning for Your Funeral

by StephBuckwalter on April 16, 2010

I felt compelled to write this entry. My mother-in-law recently passed away and the immediate funeral planning fell to me. Because she had Alzheimer’s, she had done some pre-planning and pre-paying for services. Even so, it was a lot of work coordinating everything between the funeral home, cemetery, and church, not to mention getting the word out to those who would want to know immediately.

I’d like to propose a series of questions for you here. If you do not know the answers–or that you should even be asking these kinds of questions–I have some advice for you at the end of this post.

  • Do you know how many copies of the death certificate are needed and who should get them? (banks, insurance companies, investment firms, debtors, and many more, depending on age and obligations) If the planner can answer this question immediately upon death, it saves having to order copies later from the government vital records office. Make a list of all the places that would need one and leave a copy with your will or trust info.
  • Does anyone know where your will or trust documents are? Is the law firm clearly marked so someone can contact them? There was a name on my mother-in-law’s will, but after internet searches, calls to the State Board for lawyers, and a few random phone calls around town, we found that the woman had retired several years ago and no one could give me the name of the law firm where she worked.
  • Have you picked out a place for burial/interment? Have you selected a funeral home? My mother-in-law had prepaid for her burial place and knew which funeral home would handle her cremation. When she passed away in the care facility, they would have simply called the closest funeral home. Instead, we had selected a funeral home ahead of time so we knew the prices and who to call during this stressful time.
  • If you have chosen cremation and will be interred in a crypt, do you know the size of it? Do you know how to calculate the size you will need? I found out during this process that the space she had purchased was 1/4″ smaller than the size of a standard adult urn. I had to find a smaller urn. Since I had seen some for children, I called the urn company to see if the urn would work. They gave me a calculation (based on weight) to see if it was okay. Thankfully, it was, but these are not things you want to figure out at the last minute.
  • Did you know you can purchase your urn ahead of time? There are many places to buy urns online, even COSTCO sells them. (I did not know this until my sister-in-law mentioned it one day.) Prices vary as much as several hundred dollars for the exact same urn. As I was working through the size problem, the funeral home contact had to find out if they could accept an outside urn or if we had to buy one through them. I was able order one and have it delivered directly to the crematory, but that could have been a problem if we had purchased ahead of time or if the price was significantly more.
  • Does anyone have an idea of what kind of service you would like to have and where? If you have a stable life in one geographic location, this may not be an issue but it helps if you have communicated this information to others.
  • Did you know that you have to immediately notify (via an original death certificate)  places like social security (to avoid a lengthy red tape process to return money paid to a deceased person) and creditors (to avoid getting hit with late fees)?
  • Did you know that once a person is deceased, any powers of attorney cease, too? Apparently, the executor of the estate takes over, but cannot officially do so until the paperwork is filed with the courts. If there are any family feuds, you might want to take care of that legal step immediately. We did not have this problem, but it was one more thing I learned as I went through this process.

These are just a few of the things I discovered as I went through the process. There are even more legal steps that have to be taken, depending on what state you live in.

I strongly urge you to consider making some very basic choices about what should happen when you pass, even if you don’t actually contact the places you would like to use other than to get prices. It can make a huge difference if something should suddenly happen to you or a family member. It took me and my husband a good two to three business days of work to get all the arrangements made and paperwork filled out. Because of her season of life and all the pre-planning, my mother-in-law’s situation was fairly simple.

Even though death is not something you want to dwell on often, do your family a favor and get your papers in order and make some of these choices beforehand. It can really ease a most difficult time for those who are grieving their loss.

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