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Taking Care of Business: A Final Act of Love
Very few subjects are taboo in modern society. Whether through mass media or casual conversation, all sorts of issues - personal, frightening, scandalous, intimate, delicate, tragic, humorous and offensive - enter our consciousness each day. Yet, when it comes to death - personal death - as in "my death" or "your death" - we rarely, if ever, talk about what will happen when we die.
Our reluctance to "go there" is understandable. We don't like to acknowledge our own mortality. We're afraid of the unknown. But like the elephant in the living room, it doesn't go away because we choose to ignore it. So let's put it out there: We're all going to die . . . no one gets out of here alive. By agreeing on this simple fact, we set the stage for a discussion on a sensitive matter of great importance.
If you've thought about the end of your life and how you'd like your remains to be cared for after you're gone but you haven't communicated your wishes, they probably won't be carried out. Likewise, if you haven't given any thought to such matters or made any provisions; your survivors will be left to arrange for your funeral just as they are beginning to face the shock and grief of their loss.
Why pre-planning makes sense
Newly bereaved family members are often confused and vulnerable to external pressure - not a good state of mind when making what some sources say is one of the most expensive purchases many of us will ever make, third only to buying a home or a car. (According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral in the United States is $6,500, with the costs of some funerals reaching well over $10,000.) Under such stressful circumstances, loved ones may make costly choices and pay much more for funeral services than you would pay if you made arrangements in advance of need.
Fortunately, there is a way to avoid this scenario. By taking a practical approach and planning your own funeral, you can be in charge - just as you've been in your lifetime - of the things that matter to you. For instance, most people who have accumulated wealth in their lifetime would prefer to leave it to their children or grandchildren or favorite charity than use it to pay for a costly funeral. And those who haven't acquired wealth don't want to saddle their children with the expense.
Additionally, many people have concerns about the environmental impacts of traditional funerals or philosophical or spiritual beliefs that influence their view of death, dying and funerals. Some people have strong feelings regarding burial vs. cremation or public viewing vs. private memorial, for example, while others are more concerned with the music or readings or participants in the funeral service. When you consider these matters in advance, you can focus on the things that are important to you.
Important note: Pre-planning is not the same as pre-paying. Many consumer advocacy organizations do not recommend pre-payment of funeral expenses. If you are considering pre-payment, make sure you understand what you will be paying for. You may want to seek the advice of an attorney before deciding.
Communicating your wishes
The only way to be sure that you wishes will be carried out is to put them in writing and give copies to your attorney, your next of kin and the executor of your will. Do not include your funeral wishes in your will or keep them in your safe deposit box - chances are neither of them will be open until after the funeral.
A gift of love
By making your own arrangements in advance of need, you'll protect your loved ones from undue pressure to spend more than they can afford on a lavish funeral and you'll spare them from trying to guess what you would want. Taking care of your family this way is an ultimate act of love. Beginning the conversation may not be easy - your loved ones, too, want to believe that you will live forever - but in the end, they'll be grateful for your foresight, thoughtfulness and practicality, and they'll love you all the more for them.