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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Cautionary Tales - Funeral Planning (for Halloween!) - Episode 118

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle! Today’s HALLOWEEN episode of Legal Tea is a cautionary tale, where we talk about real-life cases with real-life clients with real facts – they’re things me or my office have worked on. I figured since today is Halloween that we should do something a little spooky and some even may find straight-up icky … we’re talkin’ about planning for what happens to you after you die .. and I quite literally mean you … your body. Like are we celebrating your life by a funeral? Or maybe you don’t want a funeral – but you want a big party, a big cookout in your backyard? You just want a hole dug and buried? (I actually have no idea if that’s even allowed!) You want your body cremated? What about aquamation or human composting? Ps – Cheep plug on that … I did a Legal Tea episode on those two unique body disposal options back in Episode 97, so go listen! Anyway, all of these are to say … we’re going to be talking about THAT today on this HALLOWEEN episode!

So, generally-speaking, there are really three ways to tackle this part of post-death planning – 1) do and pay for an actual plan; 2) utilize a state form (like a Funeral Planning Declaration); or 3) don’t do anything at all and let your people “deal with it later” (aka, when you die). The first (do any pay for an actual plan) is pretty obvious, but basically – you can meet with, say, a funeral home, a cremation service company, etc., you can pre-plan whatever type of service you want, and then pre-pay too. I’m a big fan of this – if you do it, you gain two primary things: 1) You clearly know your wishes and what you want (and don’t want) – when your family may or may not (and without a pre-planned service, they may go OFF your plan); and 2) you get the payment out of the way NOW. Just like everything else, the cost of a service like a funeral, burial, etc. will continue to rise. So, why not lock in the pricing and take care of the payment (so your family is not scrambling to pay later)?

Now, the second way to tackle this part of post-death planning is to utilize a state form (like a Funeral Planning Declaration, which is what Indiana, my state, calls it, but I’m sure other states have something similar – it just may be called something else). The purpose of this document is to serve as a happy medium between doing full-blown pre-planning and not doing anything at all (which may leave your family and loved ones high and dry). Most states have a state form that you can document your general wishes as it relates to post-death planning involving funerals, body disposal, ceremonial wishes, etc. In the source links for this episode, you’ll find a link to a website that shows what Indiana’s Funeral Planning Declaration looks like/asks about. So, if you’re curious, check it out.

So, in this document, you not only designate an agent (or also called a designee) to follow your wishes, but it also allows you to complete the form as much or as little as you desire. That’s exactly how I explain it to clients, too – you can fill it out with a ton of information (like when I said you want a big party, a big cookout in your backyard … or maybe you want a more formal funeral service) or very little (like you just want to relay that you cremated and everything else, is up to the agent/designee). Anyway, so this state form allows you to relay your wishes, so your family and loved ones have a general idea of what you’d like … if you, for whatever reason, did not want to embark on a more formal funeral planning process (through a company).

The final way to tackle this part of post-death planning is by doing absolutely nothing, which honestly, I’d say most people end up in this category. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe more people do pre-planning or this Funeral Planning Declaration form than I think – but I’d venture to say I’m right. That, at someone’s passing, by far, what happens more frequently, is the family and loved ones making decisions on the type of service, on the type of body disposal, etc. This isn’t the right or wrong option – honestly, none of them are “right” or “wrong.” Some people just really have specific wishes they want to relay – and some don’t – and some do, but they’ll just relay it to their family and loved ones hoping their family/loved ones will follow their wishes.

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Now these last two stories really just demonstrate the power of at least considering what you would want – and deciding if you want to proactively do some pre-planning (to ensure it takes place); or if you want to simply relay it to your family or loved ones; or do a form like the Funeral Planning Declaration. So, since this episode is technically a “cautionary tale” type of episode, I wanted to share those couple examples of what “real” clients of mine have done – and the biggest takeaway you should hear from this episode is whether you have any specific wishes as it relates to what happens ceremonially after you pass – and are you okay with pre-planning (and pre-paying); doing a form; or relying on your family.

Alrighty … let’s wrap up this episode. Next week, we are back to the current events/current trends topic -- something I’ve seen or run across … or maybe just a timely/relevant topic … that I think would be interesting on here. Next week, we’ll be in November – does anyone know how the heck it is end of 2023?! I bring this up because we’re getting close to the holidays – and where we may see family and friends that we usually only see around the holidays. Anyway, the holidays are often when me, as an estate and elder law attorney, we’ll start hearing from kids and grandkids about their “aging” parents or grandparents – and you may notice some things that you are concerned about. So, next week, we’re going to talk about how to handle and deal with noticing aging loved ones during the holidays – especially as it relates to estate planning and elder law. So, until then, Legal Tea Listeners…be well and talk soon!


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