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Make a Resolution to Complete Estate and Funeral Planning


A resolution you can keep

While your friends resolve to make 2002 the year they finally lose weight, get fit and kick those unhealthy habits, why not do yourself and your loved ones a favor and complete your estate and funeral planning? It's certainly easier than dropping those last 10 pounds, and making your wishes known now will give you and your family peace of mind.

A nation faces the inevitable
Estate and funeral planning used to be dreaded tasks many of us knew we needed to do but never quite got around to. The Sept. 11 tragedy has jolted our collective procrastination. Lawyers around the country are reporting a rise in will requests and their clients' urgency to complete them. They're noticing younger clients from all walks of life. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications have reported the trend.

Why plan ahead?

Estate planning can:

  • save your family financial and emotional strain.
  • designate a personal guardian for minor children.
  • provide for children with special needs.
  • reserve funds for college.
  • preserve a family business.
  • ensure that money, valuables and family heirlooms go to the people you want to have them.
  • and much more, depending on the plan you choose.

Funeral planning can:

  • ensure your wishes for your funeral or memorial service, burial or cremation and other details are carried out.
  • save your family from having to make difficult decisions in their time of grief.
  • prevent family squabbles and speculation about your wishes.
  • pay for funeral services in advance.

Planning your estate
Making your wishes known doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or expensive. Most people are familiar with wills. You can type one up yourself or buy a kit, but if you have children or a lot of assets, financial planners usually recommend consulting an attorney. If your estate is simple and you decide to do it yourself, know that most states require that wills: be typewritten, name an executor and be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries.

Keep in mind that wills, even those prepared by attorneys, go through court (probate). Probate can be time consuming, stressful for your family and costly to your estate. Consider consulting an estate planner about alternatives to wills. Some options avoid probate and certain taxes.

Wills only go into effect upon your death, so they're no help if you become incapacitated. If that happens, your case will go through living probate and the court will appoint someone to handle your affairs. If you die without a will (intestate), the state will decide who gets your money, your valuables, even your children.

Planning your own funeral
The funeral home down the street or the one Mom used? Burial or cremation? Funeral or memorial service? Not sure what you want? Then imagine how your family will feel when they're forced to make those decisions when you die. Save them the added turmoil, potential disagreements and second-guessing. Make those decisions now and let them know what you want. It can be as easy as typing up your wishes and giving it to a trusted family member, friend or attorney. Funeralplan.com's Personal Planning Guide can help you get started.

Barry Zimmer, a Cincinnati area lawyer and founding member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, includes an estate planning letter among the documents he uses to create living trusts for his clients. The letter is for special distribution of personal property, burial and funeral instructions, and may include messages for family. Zimmer says in his experience, he's never known written funeral wishes to be disregarded.

Consider paying for your funeral now
You can help your family even more by not only planning, but paying for your funeral ahead of time. According to TheEasierWay.com, the average funeral costs more than $6,000 (this varies by state). Imagine how that amount can inflate over time. For a preneed funeral plan, you can work directly with a funeral home or purchase an insurance policy. Several financing options are available.

Doug Bowman of Whipple-O'Guinn Family Funeral Home in Clio, Michigan, says working directly with a funeral home is the only way to lock in today's costs for merchandise and services. According to Bowman, most funeral homes guarantee the cost of goods and services on a preneed plan and will not charge your family more than you have paid, even if costs go up. Be aware, notes Bowman, that third-party services for which funeral homes often advance cash are not typically covered in preneed plans. Cash advances include services such as grave opening and closing, minister fees and newspaper fees. Your family may receive a bill if the funeral home fronts any of those costs upon your death.

Are preneed plans safe?

Robert Jones of The Outlook Group in Franklin, Ohio, works with funeral homes on preneed plans. He says each state determines where funeral homes can place your money. It's often with an FDIC insured trust or an insurance company, so Jones says most plans are very safe. The Outlook Group works with insurance companies, such as Homesteaders Life, to offer consumers tax-free growth. "If you just set aside money in an account, the government will tax interest as income," says Jones.

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has issued consumer protection guidelines for preneed contracts, consumer tips on prepaying your funeral and a consumer bill of rights. You may want to review them at www.nfda.org before you sign on the dotted line.

What about the "what ifs?"
What if you change your mind about which funeral home to use? What if you move? According to Jones, most preneed plans are portable, meaning you can transfer them elsewhere. There may be nominal fees involved. And the next funeral home may not be able to guarantee the exact same merchandise and services, but both Bowman and Jones say most funeral homes will be happy to work with you to get similar choices.

You might also consider involving your family or loved ones in the preparation of your funeral arrangements. After all, the funeral service is really for the living. Consult with family about what type of arrangements they would like to remember you. For example, you may desire a direct cremation, but your spouse may prefer going through a more traditional funeral program. There are a multitude of choices to accomodate both desires. Your funeral director will be able to help with these choices when pre-planning.

Don't put it off any longer
You may have to do a little homework and face some tough decisions, but better to do it now than risk leaving your family confused, angry or in financial straits. Begin your estate and funeral planning today.



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