Couple standing next to a casketA funeral can be simple and low-cost, elaborate and expensive, or somewhere in-between. Many people have strong feelings about the final disposition of their bodies and how they are remembered at funeral services. In addition, many of them do not want to place the full burden of funeral arrangements on a relative. If you are one of these people, be sure to include funeral arrangements in your estate plan.

Cremation Is Subject to Certain Laws

If you prefer cremation, check with an attorney before you include your wishes in your will or a last letter of instruction. State laws usually regulate where ashes can be scattered, so the location you envision might not be possible. Distribution of ashes on private property is usually allowed, but distribution on public areas, such as the beach, might require a permit. Some states have rules governing who can request cremation. Typically, cremation must be requested in a witnessed will, a health-care power of attorney, a living will, or a last letter of instruction. Otherwise, all your heirs might have to give their consent to cremation in writing. They might disagree as to your wishes.

Consider How Your Funeral Will Be Financed

Your estate plan should include provisions that address payment for your funeral. Options include a life insurance policy made payable to an irrevocable trust to avoid estate taxes on the proceeds, or setting up a separate bank account just for that purpose. An estate attorney can advise you, based on your circumstances. Include your intentions in your will or trust documents.

Pre-Paid Funeral Plans May Be Risky

Pre-paid funeral plans have drawbacks. If you pay for your funeral ahead of time, but then live for decades, what you paid might not keep up with inflation. If you move, especially some distance, you might not be able to get your money back if you would rather be buried in your current hometown. There's also the possibility that the funeral home could go out of business or change ownership. If your pre-paid contract is not honored, your heirs can be left with an unexpected expense.

Federal Law Governs Funeral Directors

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the cost of funerals. Under its "funeral rule," you or your heirs need not purchase an entire funeral package, despite the efforts of less-reputable funeral directors to sell such package deals. You can purchase only the services you want or need. The FTC also prohibits funeral directors from trying to get your heirs to spend more by making unrealistic promises, such as promises that embalming can preserve your body forever. Funeral directors are forbidden from preying on grief or concern to sell a more expensive product.

An Elder Law Attorney Can Help

The law surrounding inclusion of funeral planning in your estate plan can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an elder law attorney.

Tagged as: Trusts and Estates, Estate Planning, funeral planning