By Lorin G. Page
For many people, end of life planning means having a good will and a better prayer. Some may also think about doing a trust, healthcare power of attorney, living will, long term care planning and even talking things over with family.
But many people fail to think about funeral arrangements, disposition of remains and a number of other questions that arise after death even though these matters may be important to them and their loved ones. A comprehensive estate plan should also address issues like whether you want to donate organs, leave your body for scientific study, be cremated or buried, have your remains placed in a veteran’s cemetery or near loved ones, have a favorite passage read or favorite song performed at your service, or have loved ones leave a memorial bequest for a favorite charity?
Yet, in certain respects, these questions can be as important as how you deal with your property. If you have religious convictions that require a specific ceremony or preserving the integrity of their remains, if you wish to donate organs, secure a grave marker next to a spouse or parent, or direct memorial donations to charity, it is crucial that you properly address those in your estate plan.
But even for those who are indifferent to what happens to their body or at their service after their death, thorough planning can save grieving loved ones a great deal of anxiety about how to make these arrangements. Not only for our own peace of mind about end of life planning but also for our loved ones’ peace of mind after we pass, make sure that your end of life planning properly addresses these issues.
In North Carolina, to ensure that funeral wishes you set forth are legally binding on your Personal Representative and family, you need to adhere to specific legal requirements. An adult may “authorize the type, place, and method of disposition of the individual’s own dead body by methods” pursuant to either a properly executed “preneed funeral contract,” a “health care power of attorney, “a written will,” or by a “a written statement other than a will signed by the individual and witnessed by two persons who are at least 18 years old.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-420. In the absence of one of these documents providing for the disposition of your remains, the responsibility falls on family.
These and myriad other issues can make administration of an estate difficult for loved ones and can cause family conflict if not properly anticipated. Have you listed your online accounts and passwords to provide your Personal Representative adequate access? Have you selected a Personal Representative that will help avoid family conflict? Have you provided that your family will be able to visit you in the hospital? Have you made gifts in the past that you wish to be “zeroed” out from gifts under your will? Do you wish to provide that your Personal Representative may expend more than $1500 for a gravestone and $250 for perpetual care of the cemetery lot without seeking court approval?
Unpleasant though it may sometimes be, proper estate planning requires detailed attention to these and many other questions, but making the effort now can help ensure that your wishes are carried out and your loved ones are spared unnecessary burdens while grieving.