How does the thought of planning your funeral sound?
While we’re all encouraged to live ‘in the moment’ as much as possible, thinking ahead is important if we want to make things easier for those we leave behind. Powers of attorney, trusts, Wills, and tax planning are all part of that process, without which loved ones face a less straightforward route to dealing with our affairs and, potentially, inheriting less of the value in our estate.
My question to clients is always: if there are steps you could take now to improve things for those you care about, why not?
Making your funeral wishes known is one way of easing the burden on those who would otherwise have to make decisions on your behalf. Family members tend to take charge of arranging funerals, although this responsibility is technically that of the executors of a Will. In many situations, the executors will be family members, so that by itself may not be a problem. What can cause a problem, however, is where clear wishes haven’t been expressed (perhaps there is no Will, or there is nothing else to suggest what the person who has died wanted for their funeral) and there’s a disagreement within the family about what to do. The division could be over something fundamental, like burial or cremation. Or it could come down to the detail of the service, the location, music, eulogies, or format of the day.
There is nothing to say that funerals have to be mapped out in advance and quite often this isn’t possible. However, doing so needn’t be difficult or time-consuming. Some people choose to factor their funeral into writing their Will, and lawyers like me help them focus on the key things as well as the smaller details that could really make a positive difference to the situation in which loved ones will find themselves. Others might decide to record their wishes as an ‘addendum’ (additional document) to their Will, which means the Will they’ve already made doesn’t have to be changed. And some people simply write their wishes on a piece of paper and file it in their desk drawer. The key point is the people who will need to know about those wishes will discover them and, although they’re not legally bound to, will act in accordance with them.
Clients often ask me if they should tell family members about their funeral plans. This is a hugely personal decision and one for people to take individually. It can be reassuring from both perspectives – there is comfort in knowing that wishes have been made clear and are accepted. However, there is always a risk that certain wishes may spark strong feelings and even conflict within families. You could find yourself under pressure to change your mind about some of the wishes you have expressed, which may or may not be a positive development.
Having a good understanding of the likely responses and reactions will help you decide how best to handle conversations with loved ones. It is something I help clients navigate as part of their future planning, because while this sort of preparation is ostensibly about the person who puts the plans in place, the real impact will be felt down the line. It is the reason people are quite rightly keen to make the best decisions at the right time.