Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), spends his entire day on a soapbox telling people why funeral planning, advance directives and discussing your choices are important. You’d think he of all people would have his affairs in order.
Imagine his surprise in December 2010 when a heart attack struck him at the age of 36. Mortality rudely slapped his face and he was not prepared.
Given his lifestyle, a heart attack was not a complete surprise. Slocum was a heavy smoker and overweight by at least 60 pounds. The fact that he smoked endeared him to Lisa Carlson, the previous FCA executive director who also smoked.
The FCA produces Before I Go, You Should Know. This handy booklet is a planning kit illustrated with drawings by Edward Gorey. It’s a place to record your wishes regarding funeral or memorial services, facts useful for an obituary or death certificate, and the location of vital papers for handling your estate.
In the introduction to Before I Go, You Should Know, it says, “You have a duty to be sure that these things are understood, especially in a world where friends and family live some distance from you. Get it all in order and then be sure to tell others where you put it…. And don’t forget to take it when traveling.”
Slocum shared his story at the recent FCA Biennial meeting in Tucson and gave his okay to tell it here – as long as the humor is included.
He was at home in Vermont when he felt crushing chest pains. Carlson, who Slocum jokingly calls “the Queen o’ Death,” rushed him to the hospital emergency room. As soon as the EKG was read, medical personnel came running. “I knew it was bad when all those doctors came in,” he said.
He was having an acute heart attack, an experience he described as “a living nightmare.” He was promptly taken into the heart cath lab, where the doctors placed a stent that opened the clogged artery.
In recovery after the procedure, while he was swimming in a medication-induced haze, Carlson came in for a bedside visit.
She asked, “Where’s your Before I Go You Should Know kit?” Slocum admitted he didn’t know. “You asshole,” said Carlson.
He also didn’t have advance directives on file. “It took me being smacked in the face with my mortality, even though I do this for a living,” said Slocum.
He has since quit smoking and lost 40 pounds. And he also found his Before I Go, You Should Know kit. Does he carry it with him everywhere he goes? I’ll ask him that question when we both speak on a panel discussion at the Ohio Cemetery Association’s annual meeting in August.
Meanwhile, we can all learn a lesson from Josh Slocum’s experience. Don’t wait until you are smacked upside the head with your own mortality to get your affairs in order.
Funeral planning doesn’t have to be painful, especially if done before there’s a death in the family. So many folks are reluctant to accept their own mortality and reluctant to make these preparations, but it makes such a big difference when done in advance.
So, in a rather different “things to do before you die” list, here are three things you should consider while you’re still in a position to do so:
1. Make yourself comfortable
Nobody wants to spend their closing days in discomfort or pain, so make the most of your later years and make yourself comfortable.
Whether this means you take more vacations, visit the family, or if you need it, have chair lifts fitted in your home is unimportant – what matters is that you are happy and comfortable.
2. Sort out your finances
This is the biggest area you need to consider, so take your time. When looking at funeral plans, shop around to compare prices and personalities, and get professional help when writing your will.
If you want to make provisions for your healthcare later in life, check out long term care insurance when you’re still healthy. Advance directives, medical power of attorney designations and ‘living wills’ outline how you want to be cared for should you become unable to make such decisions yourself.
3. Finalize the details
Do you want to be buried, cremated, or donate your body to science? Would your family go for a religious funeral or wild party? Who’s going to get which of your prized possessions and what’s going to happen to your home?
If you had chair lifts for stairs fitted in your home, these might need to be removed before putting the house on the market, so look into whether this can be managed by the company who fitted them.
You may not think you have enough assets to do estate planning. Think about this: lots of folks have safety deposit boxes to hold jewelry, cash, valuable papers and other items. Unless you have arranged properly, your heirs may not be able to access these treasure troves after your death.
Here are some tips from Steve Hartnett, J.D., LL.M., Associate Director of Education for the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc. This was addressed to estate planning attorneys, but consider how this information would apply to you as a client.
Renting a safe deposit box is a simple and quick transaction. You go to the bank, fill out a form, and pay a small fee. Clients rent safe deposit boxes all the time, using them to store cash, jewelry, and other valuable personal property. But few understand that the manner in which they fill out the rental agreement can have lasting implications.
Here are three options you should discuss with your clients:
Option One: Rent as an Individual
Imagine your client has a safe deposit box containing thousands of dollars worth of cash and jewelry. She holds the safe deposit box as an individual, separate from her living trust. What happens when she dies? The bank will seal the box, allowing access only to a court-appointed executor. This means added time and expense for her family. If she doesn’t have an up-to-date pourover will, it can also mean that her assets end up being distributed in a disjointed manner that does not reflect her final wishes.
Option Two: Add a Joint Holder
Your client might be tempted to simply add a child or another loved one as a joint safe deposit box holder. Depending on the laws of your state, this approach might eliminate the probate issue. However, it can also give rise to unintended consequences. If the joint holder had unfettered access to the contents of the safe deposit box at your client’s death, he or she could abscond with the assets. Not only could this potentially derail your client’s estate plan, it could also increase the likelihood of estate litigation.
Option Three: Transfer to Living Trust
When your client transfers her safe deposit box to her living trust prior to her death, she strikes the right balance between protection of her assets and ease of administration. Her successor trustee can access the box and its contents with no need for probate. At the same time, the trustee is under a fiduciary duty to follow the terms of the trust in managing and distributing your client’s assets, including those in the safe deposit box.
If you don’t routinely talk to your clients about how their safe deposit boxes fit into the estate planning puzzle, now might be the time to start.
Just spoke yesterday at Alamosa Books as part of a day of talks by SouthWest Writers members in different genres (mine was nonfiction). Had a great turnout with a group of widows who made an outing to hear me talk!
The speech was “Funeral Planning by the Numbers.” It covers numbers one through six, which are:
- One life to live
- Two events: weddings and funerals and their similarities
- Three reasons we don’t want to pre-plan funerals
- Four reasons to pre-plan funerals and the four “Rs” of a good goodbye event
- Five things to know NOW about each family member
- Six questions to ask yourself and answer before you meet with a funeral director or pre-need advisor
If you’ve got time to watch the 25 minute talk, take a look at it through YouTube!
Filed under: Why Pre-Plan? | Tags: death, funeral planning, memorial services, taxes
Death and taxes are life’s two certainties, and Gail Rubin, “The Doyenne of Death,” suggests five simple steps to relieve the stress related to these unavoidable prospects.
“April 15 comes around every year,” says Rubin. “While death and taxes are both inevitable, we get much more practice preparing our taxes than doing funeral planning or organizing memorial services.”
Rubin, author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, speaks regularly to groups on getting the funeral planning conversation started. She offers these five tips to reduce the stress of addressing death and taxes:
1. Deal with it: Neither the Tax Man nor the Grim Reaper will wait when the appointed time comes. Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead.
2. Plan ahead to save money: Smart taxpayers look at all the angles for making the most of deductions before the end of the year. Smart consumers pre-plan their funerals so they know the substantial costs involved and can figure out how to afford a meaningful “good goodbye.”
3. Collect important information: Taxpayers who place all their W-2, 1098, 1099 and other tax forms in one place make it easier when it’s time to file. Have one place for the will, advance directives, veteran discharge papers, personal information, and people to contact – it makes it much easier having important information all in one place.
4. Keep good records: Knowing your income and expenses for the year simplifies accurate, complete tax preparation. Knowing a person’s birthplace, social security number, mother’s maiden name, family contacts, and other information can save family members much stress at a time of grief.
5. Make it meaningful: Charitable contributions made before the end of the year can help reduce taxes while helping the taxpayer’s favorite causes. Discussing preferences for an end-of-life celebration, before there’s any death or illness, gives family members helpful insights to create a meaningful ceremony when the time comes.
To get organized, download a free planning form from Rubin’s website, www.AGoodGoodbye.com. A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die is available at the special discounted price of $15.00 (plus $3 shipping) until Tax Day, April 15, 2011.
Filed under: Why Pre-Plan? | Tags: funeral planning, funerals, memorial services, weddings
Have you ever gone to a party, showing up with a bottle of wine as a gift for the hosts, and found they’re not ready yet? Maybe they’re still cleaning up or putting the kids’ toys away, the food isn’t ready, or oh no, the bar’s not set up!
Two attributes that set a gracious host apart from an unprepared one are the ability to organize and communicate. Most experienced party throwers know it takes some planning to put together a successful event. Celebrations all have similar elements: deciding on a date, time and place, extending invitations to guests, planning unique features to make the occasion meaningful for the celebrants, and constructing a menu.
Parties get a bit more complicated as you move up the chain of life cycle events: a birthday for a two-year-old is simpler than a Sweet 16 affair. As families grow, there are graduations, anniversaries, and weddings to plan and celebrate, each more involved than the next.
And then there are funerals. These are the parties no one wants to plan. Yet this is a life cycle event that every family will undertake for every member at some point. They have the same elements of party planning as any other get-together. But if brides and grooms planned their weddings the way most people plan their funerals, they’d be scrambling to pull every element together in three to five days. Talk about stress!
By doing some advance planning, using organization and communication, families can minimize the emotional and financial chaos that often takes hold when someone dies.
Why preplan a funeral or memorial service? There are three very good reasons.
Number one, you can reduce stress at a time of grief and minimize family conflict. Think about this: If you don’t have information on hand needed for a death certificate, like a social security number, place of birth, veteran information, and mother’s maiden name, how are you going to get it when that person is dead? That’s one stress you can avoid by pulling facts together while everyone’s alive and well.
If family members have preplanned, or at least discussed a preference regarding burial, cremation, or other options, you can avoid the stress of wondering what they would have wanted.
Organization and communication can also help minimize family conflict. We’ve all heard of Bridezillas created by the stress of weddings. Funerals can create family feuds over the smallest items.
My friend Roger McManus experienced the death of both parents in very different ways. His dad had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and had planned extensively before he died – everything went smoothly. His mom, on the other hand, sat down on the couch to watch TV, fell asleep, and never woke up. She had absolutely no plans in place. The family started fighting over who got the cat, the good china – almost everything.
The experience with his mother’s death prompted Roger to create an organizer called From Here to Hereafter: Everything My Family Needs to Know. As Roger is a frequent flier, in chatting with his seatmates, the conversation invariably turns to funerals and the conflicts they provoke. His first question is usually, “So when did the fight start?”
Number two, you can save money, potentially thousands of dollars. Shopping around for the best price is the last thing you want to do when a loved one has died. On top of that, you might make purchasing decisions with your heart – rather than your head – and overspend out of guilt or remorse.
My friend Gary, who doesn’t want a fuss when he dies, wanted a cheap, simple, prepaid cremation, so everything would be taken care of when the time comes. I went with him on shopping excursions to several local funeral homes. His plain request resulted in a $750 price variation between providers for essentially the same services. The difference was due to overhead for the upscale funeral home setting of the highest priced provider.
We also found funeral directors can have a great sense of humor, when there’s no death imminent. When someone has recently died, or is about to die, the conversation has an appropriately somber tone. In addition to saving money, it’s a fascinating shopping trip and a much more upbeat experience.
Number three, with advance planning, you can create a really meaningful event that becomes a treasured memory. You don’t even have to wait until the person is dead to hold a celebration of their life. Living memorial services give the entire family a chance to speak words of love and admiration, or to make amends before it’s too late.
In one case, I coached a woman whose elderly father was fading fast. With organization and communication, she pulled the family together before Thanksgiving for an event not unlike a celebrity roast.
While the family wasn’t sure about the appropriateness of this event, her father really enjoyed being the center of attention. Those who did not approve initially came around to see it as a wonderful, memorable time. Her father died six weeks later. Everyone in the family who attended now treasures the warm memories of his living memorial service.
With just a bit of forethought and planning, the life cycle event formerly known as a funeral can be a warm celebration of life. It takes organization and communication to reduce stress at a time of grief, save money, and create a meaningful, memorable event.
When there’s a death in the family and friends come bearing casseroles, will you be the picture of grace under fire? Or will you be the host who scrambles to put everything together at the last minute? The choice is yours.
Filed under: End-of-Life Issues, Why Pre-Plan? | Tags: life celebrations, memorial services
Today’s Dear Abby column addresses the idea of living memorial services or life celebrations while a terminally ill family member is still alive.
Rabbi Albert Slomovitz wrote in that he had been asked by a funeral director to talk with the family of a terminally ill woman. He was impressed by her bravery and sensitivity in confronting her disease.
The family move up their celebrations of all holidays, secular and religious, plus birthdays and anniversaries, up on their calendars so that they could celebrate them all while Mom was still with them. This included decorating, serving food appropriate to each occasion, and even dressing up for Halloween.
Plus, the woman had invited members of her family to come visit, to give them quilts she had made over a lifetime and to say goodbye in person. She described these visits as a “living wake.”
Rabbi Slomovitz said, “Let loved ones know today how important they are to you. If there is a way of resolving a family disagreement, do it as soon as possible. Life is too short for many of these disagreements. Finally, appreciate and enjoy the time we have with family, relatives and friends. It is truly irreplaceable.”
Dear Abby replied that the rabbi’s letter had touched her deeply, and she shared a poem that was a favorite of her mother’s. Anyone know if there’s a name to credit for the unknown author of this poem?
THE TIME IS NOW
If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
Which from true affection flow.
Love me now
While I am living.
Do not wait until I’m gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice-cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me,
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us
And I won’t hear you then.
So, if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know it while I am living
So I can treasure it.
Filed under: Why Pre-Plan? | Tags: A Good Goodbye, funeral planning, life cycle events
Ever notice most people are hesitant to even talk about funeral planning? The thought occurred to me, we have a fear of funeral planning, because to do so, we would have to admit that this joy ride called life has an end.
We’d have to look at how we’ve lived our lives, examine how we’ve acted and review what we’ve done with our time on Earth.
We’d be forced to look at how we’ve treated others, and think about what others would say about us at our funerals.
We’d need to take stock of our achievements and contributions to humanity. Perhaps we are afraid we’ll find ourselves lacking.
There is no need to fear lack in this amazingly abundant world in which we live. We have a great capacity to love and learn, however old or young we are. It’s never too late to start learning, loving and sharing our gifts with each other.
Now is the time to make amends, ask forgiveness, and forgive those against whom we’ve held grudges. Bad feelings are heavy baggage to carry through life. And now, with airlines charging so much for taking baggage on flights, it’s time to think about how much you are being charged emotionally for the heavy weight of anger against others.
Drop the baggage of ill will you hold against others. It only weighs you down. You can fly free!
Then looking at life and how to celebrate its full span, however long or short that may be, becomes an exercise in counting one’s blessings and marveling at the impact each human being has within the circle of life.
The funeral is a life cycle event in all of our lives. Let’s live as if dying was not a distant possibility, but something that could happen any day. Live each day so that if it was the last, we can leave our mortal coil with no regrets.
Filed under: Why Pre-Plan? | Tags: A Good Goodbye, cemeteries, communications, funeral planning, memorial services, religion, rituals
I’m please to announce that my book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, is moving toward publication and will be available in the coming weeks. Those who wish may pre-order a copy at a discount TODAY. If you order before the book becomes available in mid-October, you get a 25% discount ($12, plus shipping and handling.)
A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die provides the information, inspiration and tools to plan and implement creative, meaningful and memorable end-of-life rituals for people and their pets.
Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – and your family will benefit from the conversation. A Good Goodbye addresses the Baby Boomer generation with gentle humor on the vital information about funeral arrangements that most people don’t learn about until faced with a death in the family.
This easy-to-read book tells how to plan a memorial service and reception, ways to communicate the news, collect vital information before it’s needed, and write obituaries and eulogies. It also presents background on many religious traditions, new funeral trends and creative non-religious rituals, event-planning checklists, information forms for death certificates and obituaries, and cost containment. It even covers ways to honor the death of a pet and remember deceased loved ones annually.
A Good Goodbye will help readers design a meaningful, memorable, healing end-of-life ritual, reducing costs and confusion while avoiding family discord and stress added to grief.
A Good Goodbye will be especially helpful for interfaith families who might not know much about their own religious traditions, let alone their partner’s. The religious funeral traditions chapter can help prompt interfaith conversations.
A Good Goodbye offers a unique opportunity to help Baby Boomers face death with the care and creativity they have embraced all their lives.
Praise for A GOOD GOODBYE:
“A GOOD GOODBYE has ‘heart sense’ in its how-to information that’s vitally needed before there’s a death in the family. Gail Rubin helps us face the thought of our own deaths and better appreciate the reality of life.” – Thelma Domenici, “Ask Thelma” Etiquette Advice Columnist, Albuquerque Journal
“A GOOD GOODBYE thoroughly and impressively covers so much that families need to know about funeral planning. It’s such a valuable resource, we have several copies in our library as a reference book for those we serve.” — Chester French Stewart, Chairman, French Funerals-Cremations and the French Family of Companies
“With grace, humor, honesty, and skill, Gail Rubin shines a light on a subject that we, as a society, prefer to keep in the dark. Sooner or later, we will all need the information in A GOOD GOODBYE, a highly readable, entertaining, and informative book.” — Jillian Brasch, author, THE LAST GIFTS
“Gail Rubin takes on society’s last taboo in a readable, practical manner with a light touch. It’s a great read for anyone who isn’t sure about this ‘death thing’ and how to best prepare for it.” — Joe Sehee, Executive Director, Green Burial Council
“Kudos to Gail Rubin for pointing out the blue elephant in the corner. The earlier we can engage each other in end-of-life conversations, the better our chances for ending our lives the same way we lived them – with grace, and intent. This book is filled to the brim with material to inspire those conversations.” — Alexandra Drane, Co-Founder of Engage With Grace and President of Eliza Corporation
“Gail Rubin is on a mission to demystify death care. This book represents the highest and best use of her experience and depth of knowledge on planning the ultimate in an end-of-life event, formerly known as a funeral.”
Just posted two articles on funeral planning over at my other web site, www.AGoodGoodbye.com. They are:
In America, death is often regarded as the classic Monty Python routine about the Spanish Inquisition. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapons are fear, surprise, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.”
Despite the fact that humans have a 100% mortality rate, we don’t expect to die. If you don’t expect to die, you’re unlikely to pre-plan a funeral. And that leads to problems like family discord, higher costs, meaningless rituals, and unnecessary stress added to grief.
And this article:
Making funeral arrangements under the duress of grief is akin to buying a car in one afternoon without research because the auto you’ve been driving for years suddenly dies. Buyer’s remorse can set in as soon as you drive off the lot and wonder if you paid too much.
When you shop around before someone dies, with the luxury of time, you can get the best deal possible on products and services. Once you have a dead body on your hands, you are not in a position, emotionally or time-wise, to shop around.
Hope you’ll check them out!