A Critical Need: Funerals - Preventing Misunderstandings and Respecting Your Wishes

In recent past, two public figures died leaving their affairs rather in disorder. One was Ted Williams and the other was Anna Nicole Smith. In both situations, their family members argued over the final disposition of the body, and this held up burial.

This situation would have been an unlikely occurrence if each individual had left specific instructions relative to his or her disposition, including burial, cremation, or cryogenics.

This language should be discussed with your family and then you should provide written instructions. Do not place these with your will or estate planning documents as by the time they are located, read and distributed to your family members, your funeral may have already occurred, without respecting your funeral instructions.

In addition, if you have specific desires, they should be addressed with your chosen funeral director while you are alive and competent. This will assure that all your intentions receive proper attention, including requested clergy, songs, readings and any other specific desires you have. Since there will be very little left to question, whether or not your family agrees, they have a legal as well as moral obligation to carry out your wishes.

As more and more people are opting to pre-plan and often pre-pay their funeral during their lifetimes, these issues should become less frequent, but sometimes disgruntled family members object or attempt to cause problems.

Issues often occur when there is a second marriage and the children from the first marriage do not agree with the second spouse. There have been situations that necessitated two wakes, separate visiting hours for different sides of the family and sometimes even two separate funeral services, since all related family members could not agree or even be in the same room at the same time.

This is indeed unfortunate, and a funeral director and lawyer must often fill the roles of social workers and mediators in an attempt to facilitate funeral arrangements with disgruntled family members. When such matters become severely contested, a judge has to make decisions on a fairly immediate basis in order to allow the matter to proceed. In some cases, the family may not agree with the judge, and they then appeal, which also takes significant time.

A further complication sometimes occurs when a person who has remarried dies, and his or her former spouse has already passed away. The surviving family members may not know whether their parent should be buried with their former spouse or with the second spouse, and certainly, the surviving spouse may have his or her own opinion as to what the now dearly departed would have wanted.

You can never provide too much detail and information prior to your death regarding your post-death instructions and funeral arrangements. That’s the only way you can be assured that your wishes will be carried out rather than those of your family, and even more importantly, prevent a judge from deciding for you.

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