Google “things to do before you die” and you’ll get over four billion hits. Most will involve experiences like “go on an African safari,” “visit the Grand Canyon,” “see a live Broadway show,” “swim with dolphins,” “ride in a hot air balloon,” etc.
One thing you probably won’t see is “get all my affairs in order.” That’s because most of us don’t like to think about our own mortality. But before you take up skydiving or that long ocean cruise, remember the words of Ben Franklin: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
That’s not to say you should go around all day with a cloud over your head like Eeyore, but spending some time getting ready is a good idea. Think of it as packing for a long trip … a very long trip.
The number one reason for advanced planning is peace of mind, both for yourself and your loved ones. Unexpected death or disability can lead to hasty decisions and financial conflict within a family. Putting your final wishes down on paper will help your loved ones make difficult decisions according to your wishes.
Your final arrangements document is basically a guide for your estate executor and family to follow. It should familiarize them with existing services that you might have already paid for and prearranged.
There are numerous inexpensive final arrangement planners available online. Generally, they allow you and your loved ones the ability to preplan before the inevitable happens. Most guides use a checklist with a number of categories, similar to the following list published by Concordia University:
- Funeral and Burial Arrangements
- Death Certificate Information
- Organ Donation
- Disposition of Your Body – burial or cremation with or without embalming
- Disposition of Cremated Remains
- Grave Marker
- Casket/Vault Selections
- Preparation of Your Body – clothing, hair, cosmetics and jewelry
- Obituary Information for newspapers, with photo if desired
- Notifications – pastor, executor, financial advisor, insurance agent, bank, etc.
- Important Papers and Information – location of will, trusts, insurance policies, credit cards, bank accounts, etc.
- Viewing the Body – public, private, open or closed casket
- Funeral or Memorial Service – pallbearers, readings, music, flowers or donations, service program, memorial table, video
Of course, there is much more to it. The AARP has a comprehensive article on its website entitled “What to Do When a Loved One Dies.” Go to aarp.org and search for that title.
In addition to your final arrangements document, you should attach any prepaid funeral arrangements, casket, burial plot and other important documents to help facilitate the process for the person(s) arranging the services, says Investopedia.com. The document should be signed and dated by you; notarization is not necessary as this is not a legal binding document of any sort.
Copies of the document should go to your executor, or the person most likely to handle your final arrangements. A copy should also be stored in a safe place at your home where someone would immediately look in the event of your death (a bank safe-deposit box is not recommended, unless you have named a successor trustee or have the box registered with a co-signer).
This information, which accurately reflects your wishes, will be of great comfort to your survivors.
But wait. You’re not done yet. There is another, equally important aspect of making final arrangements – estate planning. Not having an estate plan in place can lead to family disputes, assets going into the wrong hands, long court litigations and huge amounts of dollars in federal tax.
What are the benefits of estate planning?
- Build in “safety nets” from creditors or divorces
- Save on Probate and settlement costs and time
- Create privacy for your final plans
- Leave a legacy through charitable gifts
- Enhanced FDIC coverage on your bank accounts
- Keep control of your assets, especially through incapacity
- Estate tax planning
- Select the administrators of your will and/or trust
- Provide the appropriate support for family or loved ones
At minimum, you should create a will, power of attorney, healthcare surrogate, and living will document, and assign guardianship for your kids and pets. If you’re married, each spouse should create a separate will with plans for the surviving spouse. Also make sure that all the concerned individuals have copies of these documents:
- Last Will and Testament
- Living Will
- Designation of Health Care Surrogate
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Designation of Pre-need Guardian
- Irrevocable Trust -Charitable or Life Insurance
- Revocable Living Trust
We’ll go into detail concerning these documents in future blogs. The important thing to remember is that age is not a criterion for when you should start final arrangements and estate planning.
Procrastination is your biggest enemy.
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