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Planning for the inevitable

Ask the Director

It is never an easy discussion and, even in today’s world, is often considered a hush hush topic. I am, of course, speaking about death.

Often, when the subject of death comes up, we shy away from it ... not wanting to accept the inevitable. We even choose to avoid reading about it and, if you have made it this far into this article, I applaud you. Unfortunately, the choice to not contemplate what happens after we leave this earth can cause added grief for those we leave behind, cause them to struggle unnecessarily when we pass on.

As one of the most regulated industries in the State of California, funeral establishments have a great number of laws we must abide by. California funeral establishments are required to use a tree of relation, which we must abide by to determine who can legally sign funeral related documentation. If the person who has passed is over 18 and legally married, this tree begins with the spouse, then moves to the children (if over 18), then the grandchildren (if over 18), then the parents, then brothers and sisters, and so on. It can become very convoluted and confusing, especially if one or all the relations is missing. When who has dispositional rights becomes an issue, a funeral establishment must be shown proof by the person claiming the rights through specific documentation.

A power of attorney (POA) or advanced health care directive (AHCD) can help alleviate questions as to who holds dispositional rights. Issues arise when the documents are incomplete. What is commonly missing from these documents is verbiage concerning care after passing (or disposition after passing). Unfortunately, most people believe this is automatic. It is not. Any health care decisions in the documentation which speak about care while alive, will not cross over to after passing without being specified. It is suggested to those who have a POA or AHCD to make sure this verbiage exists. Another way to prevent adding more stress to an already stressful situation is creating what is called a pre-need or pre-arranged funeral. Most, if not all, funeral establishments can provide this.

When you plan and fully pay for a pre-arranged funeral, you choose all the aspects you wish to occur at your own funeral. Which casket or urn you wish to have, where you wish services to be held, whether you want certain music or a video tribute, etc. It includes whatever you wish for yourself within the ability of the funeral establishment.

In California, pre-arranged funerals (once chosen and paid for), are like a will and a trust. In the sense of a will, California laws forbid funeral establishments, families or POA/AHCD holders from taking away any items that you chose for yourself, including your choice of cremation or burial. It is a trust in that the money paid into the pre-arrangement grows over time, allowing for additional funds to cover the inevitable increases due to inflation. It is, however, important to understand that this growth is reliant on the current markets, so should you choose to pre-arrange your own funeral, be sure you ask all the questions you may have prior to signing anything.

Losing a loved one is difficult enough. There is nothing wrong with having this discussion with family and friends if, for no other reason, than to alleviate the additional stress and grief that may be caused by leaving your wishes undisclosed. Prepare for yourself, so your family isn’t left wondering after you are gone.

Jason Wheeler is the Managing Funeral Director (FDR4671) with Wood Family Funeral Service (CRM927).