Estate Planning 101: Planning Your Last Big Hurrah
By: Lorri Gifford
Are you ready to be a bit courageous? Let’s start this month by doing a short life review. Bring all of your humor and compassion to the table as you answer these questions. After all, by taking inventory now you have the opportunity to change or heal anything in your life that’s unresolved. This is one of the most honest and beautiful gifts that you can give yourself. So “lead on MacDuff… ”
- What are your top three accomplishments to date?
- What are your three biggest regrets?
- What action steps can you take to transform those regrets into learning lessons?
- Is there any “unfinished business” in your life?
- What has brought you the most joy?
- What has brought you the most sorrow?
- What are you best known for?
- What do you most want people to know about you?
- Who are the biggest influences in your life?
Regret is a nasty five-letter word and one that often haunts even the noblest of women and men. If you don’t believe me, answer this questions: How often have you used the words “I should have,” “If only I would have,” or “I could have”? By taking stock and answering the previous Life Inventory questions you will be at choice to make some repairs or improvements today. Taking care of these issues now will help clear some of your blocked energy. And once that energy starts to move again it makes room for more abundance to flow into your life.
The bitterest tear shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Understanding yourself is the key to living a full life and an important component regarding this month’s segment on Estate Planning. To start the ball rolling I am going to use an example of a scene that you may have witnessed once or twice in a movie or on television:
Fade in: A crowd of about thirty people dressed in black surround a grave site. Groups, couples and single people huddle under umbrellas as the sound of the rain and the preacher combine in a hushed symphony. Some are quietly sobbing as others are impatiently wiping tears from their eyes as they grieve the loss of their brother, friend, father, husband… A thunder clap is heard and the camera pans to a nearby cluster of trees. A figure is surreptitiously watching the scene from the shadows. As the lightning flashes in the sky the face illuminated is the face of the man thought to be dead. The man turns and slowly walks away thinking that at least now his family will be safe. His one thought was that he hoped that they would remember to play his favorite song and remember him fondly at his wake.
Humor me for a moment, have you ever watched a scene like this and thought about the way people would celebrate your life?
If today was the last day of your life:
What would you like your service to look like?
Is there a song? A theme?
How do you want to be remembered?
Is there some special way you want others to celebrate you?
This month we will explore the component of Estate Planning that each of us will have to face eventually, planning our last big hurrah. In the process of learning about this, I had the honor of speaking with Jennifer Duran, Funeral Director at Moore Funeral Home at Forest Lawn. So as we explore this month’s topic of planning a funeral, an essential part of an Estate Plan that is often forgotten, remember that this will be the last big party held in your honor. And, also remember a funeral service or some kind of celebration of your life is more for those that are still living then for you.
They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days. ~Garrison Keillor
It wasn’t until I started talking to Jennifer that I realized how many components went into planning a funeral. Once again it was clear, as with each topic in this series, how important pre-planning truly is.
When someone dies, it can be a very emotional time for the family and friends and if choices are not made ahead of time there is a good chance that people can overspend because of guilt. Within two hours (between the funeral home costs and cemetery) a remaining family member could end up spending $15,000 or more.
With that figure in mind, how is it going to be paid for? Has it been pre-paid? Is there a Life Insurance Policy set up to help cover the costs? Some people make “irrevocable” arrangements with a funeral home while they are still alive. This helps them to spend down the money in their Estate so they can qualify for Medicaid or a nursing home. An important thing to note is that a Funeral home will work with you on a payment plan. However, the Cemetery where the body will rest will want the total amount up front.
Who will be in charge of planning your funeral? Usually this falls to the spouse or significant other. If that is not the case the child or children will probably take care of the arrangements. Remember if there is more then one child, all of the children will have to be in agreement. If you die and have not named another person to take care of the funeral and there are funds available, a friend or family member can apply for guardianship and that person will take care of the decisions.
Never born, Never died: visited the planet earth between December 11, 1931 and, January 19, 1990.
Osho (Epitaph on his grave)
One of the first actions that will take place if you are handling the arrangements for another person that has died is selecting a Funeral Home. The Funeral director will go over vital statistics and get the legal death certificate and file the document with the local courthouse.
Copies of the death certificate are needed for: life insurance policies, bank accounts, IRA’s and any joint bank accounts. All will require a certified death certificate (one with a raised seal). The Funeral Director can help you with that and you can decide at the time how many certified copies you will need. It is important to take a deceased’s name off a joint account as quickly as possible due to the increasing amount of identity fraud. The Funeral Director also helps by notifying Social Security so that people can start collecting benefits. Once that paperwork is taken care of, here is a checklist of the other issues that need to be considered:
FUNERAL PLANNING CHECK LIST:
What is best for the family? Is it scattered or local?
Will the body have to be sent out of state? Received from out of state?
Will there be a Burial? Cremation? Or has the body been donated to science?
If you choose a burial, would you like a standard burial or a green burial? For standard: select a casket. Most cemeteries require purchasing a vault as well. For green burial: would you like a biodegradable casket or a shroud? There is a special area in the cemetery delegated for green burial and you will still have a plot with a flat river stone marker. The state also has a list of approved embalming fluids for green burials.
For cremation: what do you want to do with the remains?
Put them in an Urn? What happens to these remains when the person with the Urn passes?
Divide them between family members?
Scatter them: each state, town, city, has specific rules and regulations regarding where you can scatter them. Example: If you want to scatter them on one of the trails along the Blue Ridge it has to be 100 feet away from a public trail.
Have them made into gems.
Put them in paint and have a painting made
Just about anything can be done with the remains.
Is it best to have a Burial/Cremation now and a service later? (Whether you have a standard/green burial, are cremated or donate your body to science, you can still have a service)
When do you want to have the service?
What type of service? Church service? Maybe you want to remember and honor that life outside of a church. Example: A hike on the parkway instead of a service.
At the service do you want doves released? Balloons? Flowers? Live Music? A Slide Show? A Collage?
Will there be a public viewing? A private viewing? Visitation?
Will it be open or closed casket?
With all of these decisions to be made, it is no wonder that funerals can bring families together or rip them apart. Do you want your family to be responsible for having to make a $15,000+ decision in two to three hours or less? The more pre-planning that can be done while the person is still living, the better. You can help choose the outfit you want to be buried in, you can pick the music, the theme, the casket, the vault, etc…
Usually if you’re deciding it your family’s gonna do it. – Jennifer Duran, Funeral Director at Moore Funeral Home at Forest Lawn
Funeral costs double every 10-15 years. When you pre-plan you not only save a lot of work for your friends and family members but also lock in a price that will be honored at the time of your passing. The prices are usually transferable if the event takes place somewhere else. And all of the consultations, regardless of how long they take with a Funeral Director, are free.
Another question Jennifer is often asked is: Do you bring children to a funeral? Bring them if they are curious and tell them ahead of time what to expect. Be respectful of their needs in processing the event. They may want to attend the Funeral and service or they may not.
An issue that Jennifer is passionate about and wanted to address was to create awareness around the needs of those that you will leave behind when you die. For instance, if you choose against a service for yourself, there can be an emptiness created for your family if they go with your wishes and do nothing. They may need something to happen so they can say goodbye. (She stressed this didn’t mean there had to be a service at the funeral home but some kind of celebration of that person’s life, even if it was just a hike in the mountains with a group of friends and family)
Don’t ask your family to do for you what you wouldn’t do for them. - Jennifer Duran
When someone dies and there is no one to claim the body the county medical examiner contacts a funeral home for “indigent burial” or cremation. The county/state has the local funeral homes on rotation for occasions like these.
In keeping with the theme of this month, I will mention that the Moore Funeral Home also caters to Pet Burials and cremation. This is becoming more popular with the amount of people that rent apartments rather then own their homes. It is a good solution for all of us transient pet lovers out there.
At Moore Funeral Home there is a gazebo on site for pet memorial services. There are caskets and plots available if you choose the burial option, and for the burials they do not embalm the pets. For those that choose cremation, there are urns to choose from as well as a scattering garden for the remains.
In the past, some people have opted to have their remains scattered in the scattering garden with their pets and have their own marker placed near the garden.
The local shelters contact them when a pet in their care passes and they offer cremation free of charge for cases like these. Jennifer has a soft spot in her heart for these animals.
Note: The issue of whether it is legal to bury your pet in your own yard is unclear; it generally depends on where you live (city or rural). Do check the regulations in your area.
Being a Funeral Director is a calling. People are entrusting their loved one and themselves to you. Your Thanksgiving plans don’t matter to those that have lost someone. You either burn out in five years or are a lifer. I’m a lifer and my family knows this. Jennifer Duran
One of my favorite moments when gathering information for this article was when Jennifer shared that before they were married, she had her husband work at a funeral home so that he could see the type of life he was getting into by marrying her. When you meet Jennifer it is obvious that she loves her job and that she has found her calling.
If this article has inspired you to start the process of planning your last big hurrah and you are interested in receiving a free “Personal Arrangement Guide” or have any questions, feel free to call Jennifer Duran at 828.667.8717.
Lorri Gifford has been reading Tarot Cards since 1986. While living in California, she worked at The Chopra Center for Well-being as their Spa Director and a Lead Educator. In 2009 her intuition guided her to move to Asheville. Lorri enjoys writing, giving readings, coaching and helping others develop and deepen their intuition. She can be reached at www.readingswithlorri.com or 828.505.4485