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By Jan Meyer

Remember the movie Ghost, where Patrick Swayze is a ghost witnessing life happening without him? Let’s pretend that you’re Patrick Swayze, and you’re witnessing your family muddle through the days after your passing. Now, envision two scenarios—one where there is absolute chaos and one with order.

Behind the first door, you see that your spouse has checked out from all decision making; your bossy child has taken over; your selfish child has claimed everything for herself; your wayward son is back asking for his share; the cheapskate is yelling cremation; and your religious relative wants a family plot for you, her and your cousin, Al, whom you can’t stand and cannot fathom spending eternity with.

Door number two reveals a different scenario. Your distraught spouse and your loved ones open a box with a letter, two folders and a binder. The letter expresses your love for your family and explains that the box contains your wishes. The top folder contains a well thought out memorial service plan. The second folder has your prepaid cremation paperwork. The third document is your estate planning binder all your other wishes, including instructions on how to manage your wayward son’s inheritance. As your loved ones mourn your loss, they also feel your love.

Above are worst-case and best-case scenarios of an afterlife. The ideal scenario falls somewhere in the middle. Here are some tips to help get your loved ones prepared.

  1. Make a list of your funeral wishes. Handwrite a note or have it as part of an estate plan. At minimum, it should indicate your choice between cremation or burial, a big farewell or an intimate gathering, and can even include list of your favorite songs and readings. Telling your family what you want enables them to execute your wishes without feeling like you’re being honored incorrectly.
  1. Pre-plan and pre-pay your funeral expenses. It may seem morbid to order a funeral in advance, but like planning a party, it’s all in the details. There are companies that offer prepaid cremation, memorial services and burial packages. By pre-planning and pre-paying for these services, families are left to grieve without having to make any of these decisions. No need to figure out mom’s bank account information to get funds for funeral expenses or stressing about coming up with the funds immediately.
  1. Have a family roundtable. It is a difficult conversation to have for many people, but it is so important. Open communication ensures that everyone is put on notice—no surprises. Family members can ask questions and to come to terms with your decisions that may be contrary to their own wishes.
  1. Get an estate plan drafted. A typical estate plan has the following documents: a revocable trust, a pour-over will, a durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, a HIPAA and a Final Disposition form. You get to appoint who will execute your wishes, who will inherit the fruits of your hard work and how, and make plans for your incapacity.

Doing all of the above will not only give you peace of mind, it will be the best love letter to your family from beyond. My clients have expressed the relief felt once the final document of their estate plan is signed, even before the ink dries. Being proactive gets the proverbial monkey off your back so you can go on with the best part of life—living!

Jan Meyer owns her own trusts and estates law office in Dana Point. Since opening her practice seven years ago, Jan’s focus has been on guiding families and individuals with comprehensive family protection planning.

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