By Laird W. Green
CFP® from Abacus Planning Group
“Facing death with a sense of practicality, equanimity, and clarity is the ultimate gift you can leave your children, friends, and loved ones” (Coventry Edwards-Pitt, Aged Healthy, Wealthy & Wise). Mrs. Edwards-Pitt continues by saying, “one of the very kindest things a person can do for his or her family for emotional peace of mind is to contemplate how he or she would like the end of life to unfold and to communicate those wishes openly, honestly, and uniformly with every family member who might have an emotional investment in the outcome.” Abacus believes this advice also includes funeral and burial wishes.
While no one wants to dwell on his or her own immortality, your death is inevitable. You do not have control over the time or circumstances of your death; however, you can exert control over your future by planning the way in which your loved ones remember and celebrate you. Arranging these details ahead of time is a gift to your family and friends when they are aware of your post-death wishes. Having a road map takes the stress of making tough decisions away from your loved ones and gives them a sense of serenity and peace of mind when mourning your loss. A pre-determined plan also makes it easier for your loved ones to be in agreement about your wishes. Have the difficult conversation and record your wishes to ensure your family and friends understand and can execute your plan.
Have the conversation. Talking about your death and funeral and burial plans can feel scary and difficult. However, a talk around these issues before a sickness or illness is easier for planning since there are no “extra” emotions for the parties involved. How should you begin the conversation around your post-death wishes? Determine whether or not your family would rather have a more formal or informal discussion. You may want to schedule a family meeting in which you review all your wishes, or you may opt to have an informal conversation by mentioning another person’s death and how that circumstance has made you think about your own plans.
Record your wishes. Write down what you want. A template form like Funeral and Burial Wishes from beginthediscussion.org is a place to start. Make sure you tell your family where your decisions are recorded. The location, such as a filing cabinet, USB drive or fire-proof safe, should allow for easy access after your passing.
You may wish to consider the following as you make your plans:
Write the obituary. Many individuals choose to write their own obituary. If you are not comfortable with this task, consider listing items you wish to be featured in your obituary. Create a list of newspapers or websites where the obituary is to be published.
Funeral or memorial service.
- Do you wish to have a funeral or memorial service? Name individuals you wish to be involved in making the arrangements. Designate a location for the service.
- Will the service be religious or secular? Would you like a viewing or wake?
- Do you want an open casket (or closed) if you are buried?
- If there will be pallbearers, whom do you want to serve?
- Do you want speakers at the service?
- Do you want flowers at the service?
- What music or songs would you like played?
- Do you want any scripture or readings?
- Do you want friends and family to send flowers, or would you prefer memorials be sent to a certain organization(s)?
Do you want to be buried? If yes, think about the following:
- Do you want to be embalmed or not?
- List the location of the plot in the chosen cemetery. (Make sure to include original paperwork for ownership of the plot.)
- What color and type of casket would you like? In what clothes do you wish to be buried?
- Record what you would like listed on your tombstone.
Do you want to be cremated? If yes, consider the following:
- Do you want to be interned? (Include documentation for ownership of space at a columbarium or mausoleum)
- Do you want your ashes scattered? (Include specific details and/or maps of locations where you want your ashes spread.)
Hopefully making these decisions around funeral and burial wishes will give you a sense of control over your life. Pre-planning is truly a gift as your loved ones are able to remember you peacefully and celebrate your life during an emotionally charged time.