We have some bad news and some good news for you. The bad news is: you are going to die. The good news is, you probably have some time to plan for it. And for once, we are not talking about estate planning (though if you’re behind on that, you should definitely give us a call). No, in this blog post we are talking about how to plan your funeral (or, if you prefer, “celebration of life”).
With some dreaded tasks, like doing laundry or taxes, you have to get to it sooner or later or face unpleasant consequences (like going to work in your bathrobe, or facing charges for tax evasion). Planning your funeral is not like that. If you choose, you can literally wait out the clock, and, voila: you’re off the hook.
There are only a few problems with this approach. First and foremost, it means that someone you love, who is now grieving your loss, is suddenly ON the hook for the task of planning your funeral. Second, they may not plan your funeral the way you would have wanted. And third, your funeral is almost certainly going to cost more than if you had planned it in advance. So buck up, bite the bullet, and do whatever it takes to tackle this chore. Here’s a handy guide to help.
Designate a Funeral Representative.
Not to belabor the obvious, but after you die, you won’t be around to put the wheels in motion for your funeral, so you’ll need someone to be in charge. Fortunately, Michigan allows for you to designate a funeral representative. A funeral representative designation must be in writing and signed by you in the presence of a notary and two witnesses. You can later revoke the designation if you choose to. Tell your designated representative that you have chosen them, and give them a copy of the designation.
Designating a funeral representative means you have one point person for your funeral planning. This reduces the risk of family members arguing over the arrangements. Your funeral representative should abide by your wishes to the extent possible, but Michigan law gives them final decision-making authority over your funeral planning. If you fail to designate a funeral representative, your closest next-of-kin will get to make those decisions.
Make Your Wishes Clear.
If you know what you want, tell your loved ones, and especially your designated funeral representative. Put your wishes in writing, so there is no ambiguity. Things you may want to specify include:
- Whether you want to be buried or cremated;
- Whether you want a funeral or a memorial service;
- Where you want the service to be held;
- Whether you want the service to be public or private, and who should be invited;
- Whether you want people to send flowers or some other sort of tribute, like a donation to one of your favorite charities;
- Who should be asked to be pallbearers, if pallbearers are needed;
- Who should conduct the service, what music should be sung/played, and who should be invited to give a eulogy or speak;
- Any other details that are relevant to you.
You can put this information in a health care directive or a document that you give directly to your funeral representative. One thing you should not do is put it in your will; your will is unlikely to be reviewed before your funeral, so your wishes may not be seen or honored. Make sure that your loved ones know that you have put your wishes for your funeral in writing, and where to find a copy of those wishes if needed.
Do Some Comparison Shopping.
Ever had to buy a suit or dress at the last minute for an event? Chances are, you paid more than you needed to and didn’t get exactly what you wanted because you were under pressure to get something. The same is true of funeral planning. When your family has to find a funeral home, coffin or urn, and a burial plot, they need to take what’s available, and pay what it costs, whether or not it’s ideal.
However, you can work with a funeral home and make some arrangements in advance. There can be great variation in prices for funeral services and goods, so it’s wise to shop around while you have the chance.
However, you can work with a funeral home and make some arrangements in advance. There can be great variation in prices for funeral services and goods, so it’s wise to shop around while you have the chance. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule states that funeral homes must provide consumers with a general price list for all goods and services. It also prohibits certain misrepresentations and makes clear that consumers cannot be required to purchase certain items.
Although many people do for convenience, you don’t need to purchase everything from the funeral home. For instance, you can purchase a casket elsewhere, including at Costco or Amazon.com.
Pay Before You Go.
It’s likely that you want to avoid leaving the burden of paying for your final arrangements on your loved ones’ shoulders. Many funeral homes offer pre-payment, an option you may want to consider, but be aware of the risks: if your loved ones need to use a different funeral home, they may have trouble getting your money back. And if the funeral home goes out of business, your pre-payment may be gone for good.
A better option: create a payable-on-death account with your designated funeral representative as the beneficiary. That way, the funds will be readily available to them and they can use them as needed, not only for your funeral per se, but for associated items like a memorial reception after the event.
If you have questions about designating a funeral representative or how to plan your funeral, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.