By Guest Author: Alecia Vidika, Esq.
As a practicing probate attorney for over twenty years, I have seen a lot of post-death “drama” involving many families. It is hard enough losing a loved one, but to be enthralled in a battle with family about where the deceased should be buried is something that can be totally avoided. Yet, countless times, I’ve heard and experienced first-hand funeral arrangements that have not only gone awry, but have been a complete injustice to the deceased. So, think about this: Have you decided how you want to die? Of course not, because you can never choose how you want to die. However, you can dictate the process of your afterlife—burial or cremation.
Now, I have had clients that do not like to discuss death. For whatever reason, it scares them, or the thought of dying is a subject they do not ever want to talk about or even be counseled on when the subject comes up. I never understand this mode of thinking. Do they think they’re immortal? They do not think about what really happens when they do, in fact, die. But, as an attorney that sits at a conference table with the families after their loved ones have died, I’m here to tell you that leaving your family with absolutely no instructions is irresponsible and often, tragic.
Take this for an extreme example: I had a client that was widowed and had seven children whom didn’t get along. When he died, the children were more concerned about his personal property than they were his burial. And they made a point of purposely disagreeing with each other on cremation or burial. The father never signed any declaration with the funeral home that he wanted cremation, even though his wife had died a year before and he had told two of his daughters that he, in fact, wanted to be cremated like his wife. The funeral director told the family that all seven of the children had to be unanimous in the decision of cremation or burial. And because the children didn’t get along, the father remained un-embalmed for almost one month. Can you imagine what it costs to remain un-embalmed at the funeral home for a month? This could all have been avoided with a signature on a piece of paper before death.
Even when you think your children get along, things can go awry in cases of sudden death or even terminal illness. Do not leave your funeral arrangements up to your loved ones to decide. They are stricken with grief and shock, and many times, it is very hard for them to make quick decisions when dealing with death. And if the family doesn’t get along, these last-minute confrontations at the funeral home leave everyone traumatized and the family fractured, sometimes permanently.
I will leave you with this: figure out where you want to be buried and buy cemetery plots, or know if you want to be cremated. Have a family conference with your children, or your parents, or your extended family, and tell them how you would like your life to be celebrated after death. Do you want a Mass? Visiting hours? A twenty- one gun salute? A private burial? No burial? Ashes spread at your favorite vacation spot? And if you don’t know, how to you expect your family to know? And if you don’t know, you need to start thinking about it. You are not going to live forever. I guarantee it!