Guest Blog: Relational Estate PlanningToday’s post is a guest blog written by Stephanie Heavey about Relational Estate Planning. For more information, contact Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org
You just breathed a sigh of relief. The “t’s” have been crossed and the “i’s” have been dotted on the will, the trust, the powers of attorney. That task you’d been “meaning to do for a long time” is now finished. You’ve determined who will get what and how it will be handled after you die, and who will be your executor. You might have even written the names of beneficiaries on sticky notes and stuck them to the bottoms of furniture and the backs of paintings. You can get back to everyday life.
Not so fast. There is another aspect to Estate Planning that is every bit as important. It is Relational Estate Planning. Taking the time to decide and leave directives for your executor and, more importantly, for your loved ones to act upon when you die.
When you lose a loved one, all aspects of your being are focused on that person and that loss. You move from moment to moment in a mental and emotional fog that the loss has created. Yet, it is precisely at this time that you must make countless decisions within a very short period of time. A time when you are least capable of making solid decisions.
For husbands and wives who lose their spouse, life is turned around 180 degrees. Whether you have been married many years or few, you are no longer two. For some, the years together have been so many that it is difficult to remember when they weren’t together.
For children who lose a parent, there can be a sense of being orphaned. If there are several siblings, each has his or her own thoughts about how mom or dad should be honored and remembered. Sometimes, these can conflict with, or even brush aside, the desires of the surviving parent. Sometimes unresolved conflicts among siblings will surface and create division when all should be working together.
And in both instances, the intensity of loss may spur a person to decide that nothing is too good or too costly or too far-fetched, if it will honor the one who has died.
Just as your Financial Estate Planning will help your loved ones navigate the financial and legal aspects after you die, Relational Estate Planning will help them with the emotional and relational planning.
As a Memorial Service Planner, I have seen that many people are thrust into the situation of planning a funeral for a loved one with little or no guidance. Those families who have been fortunate to have a loved one who did some preplanning have always expressed their gratitude for the person’s thoughtfulness in anticipating this difficult situation and choosing to make that time as easy as possible.
Whether a person has been ill for a time and the prognosis is not good, or death comes without warning, we are never prepared. Suddenly, there is a myriad of questions that need immediate answers.
All the activities that comprise a funeral serve two purposes. The first is to honor and celebrate the life of the loved one. The second is to comfort and support those who are grieving the loss.
When a person dies, the most immediate need is to be able to contact a funeral director who will come and transfer the person’s body from the site of death. It is helpful to gather information about the local funeral chapels beforehand. The services each one provides and the costs can vary considerably. Most funeral chapels have websites that enumerate and explain their services.
Choosing a funeral director with whom you are comfortable is as primary a step as choosing a good lawyer to handle your estate. Once you have chosen this person, he or she and their staff will be there to walk your loved ones through all the other decisions that need to be made.
The next step is deciding whether there will be a burial or cremation and entombment of the cremains. It is also helpful to consider whether there will be donation of organs. If a person has a strong desire to have others benefit from his or her death through organ donation, it is vital to make these wishes known, especially to the person(s) who have Power of Attorney for Health Care.
The cost of caskets and urns varies widely. Again, the internet is a good source of information on what is available and pricing.
Once the decision has been made regarding burial or cremation, then a resting place needs to be selected. If you have memories of a cemetery where you felt peaceful and calm, visit there. Speak with the staff about availabilities and plans. Many cemeteries have plans wherein a site can be selected now and paid for over time. Costs are locked in at the current value.
When a new cemetery was being created near my in-laws, representatives went door to door offering terrific plans that included everything needed for burial. The plans were paid off on a monthly basis. At the time, my husband took a dim view of his mother’s decision to purchase two gravesites. He rethought his position as we stood in the cemetery on snow-covered ground on a bitterly cold December morning years later. Mom’s foresight was another gift of love to her son.
A complex part of funeral planning is deciding whether there will be a wake or visitation and what type of liturgy or memorial service will best honor the loved one. A person’s religious affiliation may influence these decisions. The timing of these may also be affected by the distance or proximity of the relatives and friends of the loved one. These are decisions that, of necessity, are often made at the time of loss.
However, one can certainly express their wishes regarding a wake and the type of memorial service they would like. While some people do not want a visitation or wake, there is an aspect to both that is very beneficial to those mourning the loss. A wake or visitation impresses the reality of the loss and, in that sense, aids in acceptance of the loss and closure. It also can be most comforting to see family and friends coming together to honor the deceased and share stories and memories.
For a memorial service or liturgy, it is helpful to know what music and songs appealed to the loved one. One person might feel that a service wouldn’t be complete without “Amazing Grace”, while another can’t stand to hear it. The songs should both honor and respect the loved one, as well as bring comfort and peace to the mourners.
If a person has scripture readings for a liturgical service that have great meaning to him or her, or other readings for a memorial service, they should be written down.
Making a list of all the relatives is another thoughtful gift for those who will ultimately do the planning. In this day and age of family trees with many grafted branches, members scattered all over the world and endless variations in the choices and spelling of names, having such a list when it is most needed is a blessing.Unlike financial estate planning, Relational Estate Planning is much more flexible and it is not necessary to do it all. Any amount of preplanning will be a precious gift to your loved ones.
I want to thank Stephanie Heavey for this important article. If anyone is interested in publishing a guest post on our blog on a topic that has some connection to estate planning or administration — finance, banking, investments, health, insurance, taxes, valuation, genealogy, family, real estate, etc. — call or e-mail me. We currently reach around 250 blog subscribers.
Image via Flickr courtesy of Hilda Agajanian