Estate Planning: Why You Shouldn’t Wait

July 2015 | Article

This most recent Memorial Day reminded me that the only thing you can truly count on is death and taxes and that each comes with it’s own set of unique requirements, like it or not.

Almost a Vacation
Several years ago, my wife and I were on a drive to Western Oklahoma to remove the flowers that were placed on the graves of relatives for Memorial Day. The day was beautiful and there was not much wind, which is a rarity in Western Oklahoma, making the trip seem almost like a vacation.

We were about an hour into our return trip when we topped a hill to see the kind of thing that always brings anxiety to your mind: a large gathering of county sheriff cars, ambulances, fire trucks and wreckers at the intersection of two high-volume roads. After talking to a deputy and confirming the accident victims weren’t anyone local we knew, we turned around to take another road back into the city.

An hour or so later, I was unpacking the car when my wife told me she had a telephone message saying her uncle had died earlier that morning. The day, considering the accident and now word of the uncle’s death, didn’t seem as beautiful, or as vacation-like, as before.

The news about my wife’s uncle was not a surprise, unlike the victims in the auto accident, because he had been ill for about two years and had been in a hospice program for the last couple of months. But, dealing with the death of a loved one requires things to be done that if not preplanned, come as a surprise to many of those who, by necessity, are called to responsibility.

I had to deal with the funeral arrangements of my father’s death, and later my mother’s death, at an early age, so I learned the hard way about such matters. I also knew that my wife’s uncle had not preplanned his funeral arrangements, leaving such things to his wife of 63 years. Their children had moved away, and at the age of 85, my wife’s aunt had few relatives to help her make the funeral arrangements. Of course, she was also mentally and physically depleted at this time. My wife and I offered to go with her to the funeral home to help.

What to Expect
The setting for the funeral home meeting is usually in a room lined with examples of materials that will, or could, be used in the service the funeral home will provide.
A checklist is normally provided prior to the meeting to gather needed information.
The questions discussed in the meeting cover a number of topics including, but not limited to, burial plot selection, music, memorial information, time and day of the service, clothing, poems, video presentation, limos to be used, burial plots, headstones, death certificates, burial or cremation, location of service, obituary, type of service, open or closed casket and specialty items.

The selection of a casket and vault in which the casket is placed for protection is a difficult process. The true reality of the death becomes apparent, and then there is the cost. A casket and vault can run into the thousands of dollars, in addition to the cost of the grave marker.

Then, after all the decisions have been made, the funeral home representative prepares a summary statement of what will be done and the cost, for approval and payment. Payment is typically, if not always, required prior to the service. In addition
to the standard methods of payment, assignment of a life insurance contract can also be used.

Next on the list of things to do is find a florist for the family floral decoration. After that is done, there seems to be an endless list of small decisions that need to be made. My wife’s uncle’s funeral services were designed to be pretty much as economical as possible, but still the cost came to more than $8,900, which did not include a charge for a burial plot or grave marker, because those had been purchased years before by the uncle and his wife. Payment of the funeral home services
was made utilizing an assignment of a life insurance policy and was a very simple procedure.

My point in all of this is very simple: Do your funeral and estate planning now, and do your parents’ funeral planning now as well. It may be a difficult topic for discussion and upsetting to think about, but from both an emotional and financial standpoint, better decisions and savings will be made from preplanning. There will also be less emotional and financial stress at the time the service is required, which is not the time when such matters should be influencing the decisions being made.

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