How to Make Your Final Arrangements

by Culture & Society Editor
Though not a formal legal document, a letter of instruction can be crafted with the aid of an estate planning attorney.

Though not a formal legal document, a letter of instruction can be crafted with the aid of an estate planning attorney.

Whoever lies beneath the gravestone in Key West, Florida, with an epitaph that reads "I told you I was sick" obviously planned ahead. Most people don't prepare for their own death. Using a "road map" (a guide for executors or survivors) makes simple work of dealing with your demise, and is the final step in a lifetime of careful planning.

Personal preparation

Include your spouse in all your business matters in life so he or she will be able to cope better after your death.

Consider leaving notes for your family members in the form of diaries or videotapes. Tell them how special they are to you.

Specify how you would like your obituary to read.

Make a list of people--family, friends, your banker, stockbroker, attorney, insurance agents--to be notified along with their phone numbers and addresses.

Legal and financial preparation

Read 244 Make a Will, 243 Create a Living Trust and 245 Execute a Power of Attorney. Work with a lawyer to draw up these documents.

Make sure that your life insurance payout is sufficient to tide your family over until your spouse gets back on his or her feet after your death. See 236 Buy Life Insurance.

Keep your list of beneficiaries up to date. Every time you experience a major life change (birth, death, divorce), go down the list and make sure your beneficiaries are still correct.

Pick up a road map from the trust department of a bank, a financial planner or an estate attorney. A road map enables those surviving you to handle your affairs as you wish after your death, minimizing confusion and potential rancor.

Pour all your vital information--personal and business-related-- into the road map. There are sections for personal information, insurance records, account numbers, bank accounts, certificates, securities, safe-deposit box (and key) location, trust fund and tax information, military service details and veterans' benefits.

Hire an estate organizer for professional assistance in creating a road map. He or she will help you organize your financial information, clarify your desires and record to whom you want your heirlooms and collections to go--all in the privacy of your home. See 247 Plan Your Estate.

Include specific details on what you would like done with your body. Would you like to be buried, cremated or donated to science? What about organ donation?

Contact the Neptune Society (neptunesociety.org) if you would like a simple cremation service. Basic cremation starts at $1,300; caskets, urns and other services are extra.

Choose a funeral provider. Ask friends for references.

Add up how much the funeral and burial will cost if that is your desire. Figure out where you will get the funds and write your instructions clearly in your road map.

Buy a casket. Materials range from knotty pine to hardwood, copper, stainless steel and other materials. Decide if you want your casket open or closed during the funeral (some clergy prefer a closed casket). Depending on how rough-and-tumble your exit ends up being, you may ultimately be outvoted.

Write down any final comments you would like to make--to your family, community of friends, or the world. This would be the other time where you speak now or forever hold your peace (see also 323 Plan a Wedding).

Tips

  • See 294 Arrange Hospice Care to further understand how to prepare for a terminal illness and death.
  • Give careful thought to your service. Would you like the ceremony to be traditional and very religious, or a spontaneous, creative memorial? If, for example, family members assume you're a devout Christian but you've had quiet Buddhist leanings for years, clarify your wishes.
  • Put any favorite sayings, quotes, poems or songs that you would like read at your service in your road map.
  • Go to FuneralPlan.com for more information on caskets.
  • The Neptune Society will follow your wishes to have your ashes scattered at sea (with or without family members present), buried in a rose garden or placed in a columbarium.
  • What's your life expectancy? Find out at LivingTo100.com.
  • If you are or were a member of the military, investigate what services are available. Veterans are often entitled to have a military guard, but need to ask for it.
  • The laws in most states recognize your right to control your own funeral and cemetery services.

Warnings

  • Don't get talked into purchasing extras you don't want or can't afford.
  • Research mortgage insurance so that your home is automatically paid for if you die. Consider similar insurance for other significant properties.

Photo Credits

  • Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images