Make those final arrangements for yourself
December 1, 2019
By KENNETH KIRK
For Senior Voice
Since I finally got my TV antenna adjusted, I’ve been watching more of those higher-number UHF channels, the ones with numbers in the 30s and 40s. A lot of those channels run the same commercials over and over, which is why I want to talk to you today about reversing hair loss.
No, wait! Wrong topic! I mean, final funeral and burial arrangements! Sorry.
I see a lot of those commercials for small insurance policies which say you can’t be turned down, no matter your age. They’re mostly sold as a way of providing money for your loved ones to pay for your burial or cremation. Which is fine, although presumably you only need that if your estate is going to be really, really illiquid. Because if you have enough cash, they can use that money to pay for the final arrangements, and the insurance company doesn’t get a profit from that. And I’m pretty sure the insurance companies have calculated how much they have to charge so they take in more than they pay out each year on these final arrangement policies.
But does that mean you shouldn’t make final arrangements in advance? Absolutely not.
There are a lot of decisions that have to be made, almost immediately, when someone dies. What funeral home do you want the body sent to? Burial or cremation? Coffin or casket? Do you want a fancy casket or the basic model? Do you want a service? Should the casket be present at the service? Open casket or closed? What music would you like? Do you have some pictures for the program? Is there a need for an autopsy? What about organ donation? Sir, would you like the nurse to remove the wedding ring to give to his widow?
I remember being overwhelmed by all of the decisions I had to make when my father died. Yeah, I deal with this stuff for a living. But this was my own dad. And it was 1:30 in the morning, after I’d been roused out of bed and was standing in a hospital waiting room.
So anything you can do to plan ahead is a real benefit to your heirs. And you may or may not need a life insurance policy, but here are some things that really do help.
First, consider pre-paying your arrangements. This offers several advantages. Your heirs don’t have to pay, because you already did. And when you sign that deal, you also make a lot of the decisions in advance, so they don’t have to do that either.
And on top of that, you can get a better deal that way. It’s hard to bargain with a funeral director when it’s Thursday afternoon and everyone is expecting a service on Saturday. When you’re pre-paying, though, if you don’t like how it’s going, you can just say “I’ll get back to you” and go try your hand at a different funeral home.
And you don’t need to feel guilty if you want to be frugal with your own arrangements. A lot of people spring for expensive caskets, not because their loved one would have wanted to be surrounded by a fancy maple-and-gold box, but because they don’t want to feel like they were cheap when it came to their loved one.
The second thing you can do, regardless of whether you make pre-arrangements, is write your wishes down and provide them to your heirs. I have a form for that, which you can print out for free from my website, KirkAlaska.com. I recommend signing it in front of a notary, because that way if there are any disputes, they have proof that it was you who signed it.
Written last wishes really do matter, by the way, if there is a dispute. I have been in court for hearings on everything from whether the body should be buried according to a particular religious custom, to whether part of mom’s ashes could be pressed into a jewel for a daughter to wear around her neck. Typically, the very first question the judge asks is “did she (the deceased) put anything in writing about what she wanted?” There isn’t any statute in Alaska that says they have to follow your written wishes but, hey, judges don’t want you to haunt them.
You should also consider signing a Disposition Document (also available on my website) which directs who is in charge of those final arrangements. This is a statutory form and it is, very much, legally binding.
And then of course, you should have your will, trust and other documents in place. But I’ve written about that before.
I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t get a small life insurance policy; that depends on your circumstances. I am saying that you should make your own final arrangements in advance. I’ll save whether you need hair restorers, air fresheners and skin creams for a future column.
Kenneth Kirk is an attorney and estate planner in Anchorage. Side effects of following this advice may include a general feeling of well-being at having done the right thing for your family. Some clients have died after making final arrangements. This article should not be taken as legal advice; for specific legal advice you should consult an attorney.