Everyone deals with discussions about death differently. Some people can discuss their own estate plan with a great amount of levity while others are moved to tears at the mere thought of their own mortality. Regardless of how you feel about discussing these types of issues, most people would agree it is appropriate to discuss your own funeral arrangements as part of making an estate plan.However, talking about final arrangements for someone else that is still alive is an entirely different matter. While it may become necessary for family members to discuss advance planning for funerals, burial, and cremation for a relative that is suffering a terminal illness or is of very advanced age, it is a fine line between what is appropriate and what is hurtful when that relative is still living.I recently observed a discussion among siblings about final arrangements for their parent who is in assisted living and facing high monthly bills for long term care. Their parent has been experiencing a slow decline in health, but is not suffering any particular illness. Nevertheless, the siblings discussed that they were going to prepay a funeral home for funeral services and cremation for their parent now. They even planned to order a grave marker or headstone for their parent now. This is the point at which I felt the conversation crossed the boundaries of what is appropriate. Since their parent is alive and not currently in an end of life care situation, it seems morbid, not to mention very unkind, to discuss ordering a headstone at this time.While I strongly encourage family members and partners to be very open in communicating their last wishes with each other, it is wise to keep in mind there are some conversations we just should not have. Although it often becomes necessary to discuss making final arrangements for a person that is still living for reasons such as financial planning, Medicaid planning, logistics, timing, etc., such discussions should be as thoughtful and respectful as possible. Keep in mind how such discussions can be perceived and that everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to discussing end of life matters.To learn more about why it may become necessary to preserve assets for final arrangements, see
can I afford a funeral.
Some Final Arrangements Can Wait
While there are several benefits to making funeral arrangements in advance, some parts of the process can easily be put off until after the funeral and therefore need not be rushed. For example, there is no need to order a headstone or grave marker in advance. In fact, there are several reasons to delay ordering a monument until after the funeral.One reason to wait to order a monument is to ensure the headstone you order complies with the requirements of the cemetery. See Things to Consider when Purchasing a Grave Marker or Headstone. Also, it may be important for some family members or close friends to have adequate time to begin the grieving process before having to make a decision about what type of monument to choose or what type of epitaph to select for their loved one. This is one aspect of final arrangements that does not need to be made until well after the funeral service is held.If cremation has been chosen as part of the memorial preferences, a decision will need to be made at some point on whether to scatter the ashes or have them interred in a cemetery. If the memorial preferences indicate the ashes are to be scattered, there is no need to rush this part of the arrangements. I have seen families wait years to take the final step with regard to placement of cremated remains. It can be an incredibly difficult decision and many people need more time to come to terms with their loss.
Preserving Assets for Funeral and Burial Costs
Depending on the financial situation involved, it is sometimes necessary to discuss all the final arrangements in advance in order to engage in Medicaid planning, to establish a trust or to take other steps necessary to preserve assets to pay the cost of funeral, burial, cremation, and related last wishes. Many families become concerned that nursing home costs and medical bills will leave their loved one without any remaining funds for burial.
You can also find more tips on what you can do to set money aside to cover the cost of final arrangements in our article on funeral expenses and Medicaid. Planning ahead for seniors is essential when it comes to the expenses of long term care, medical costs, final arrangements, and providing any bequests that may be intended for children, grandchildren or a spouse. Often, this means planning several years in advance. For a quick overview of the issues to consider, see our estate planning page.