As I sat last week with my daughter in the hospital, she received visitors wishing her a speedy recovery. One of her visitors was a medically retired woman with questions and concerns regarding her unavoidable future death. Her questions revolved around her particular medical issues and the way in which they would be addressed during the preparation of her body. Her religion requires that she be dressed by members of her faith, and she wanted assurances that she would be able to have this done with as little inconvenience as possible to her friends and family.
After discussing the subject to her satisfaction, our topic changed to the type of services and choices she would prefer for her funeral arrangements. I was surprised when I asked her who her pre-need was with, that she did not have one. I asked her why after all of the thought and planning she had so obviously invested into her preferences, had she not prearranged for their execution on her behalf. This woman is in the unique situation of being rather young, yet rather ill. Fortunately, she was greatly appreciated and loved by the company she worked for, and out of concern for her, this company paid off her home, offered her a funded retirement and tacked on wonderful insurance coverage so that she could live out the remainder of her life in comfort without concern for her financial needs.
She is also a single woman, she has never married and hasn’t any children. Her plan in life is to leave her sizable estate to her nieces and nephews. She stated that in exchange for her estate, they would have to take on the task of planning her funeral and burying her. I was surprised at her plan and asked if she loved her nieces and nephews any at all. She was taken back by my question and asked me to explain myself.
I was glad to accommodate her request and asked her why she would place these children, whom she claimed to love so deeply, in familial turmoil and financial ruin. She insisted that she would never do such a thing and that indeed; she was setting them up quite well financially. I asked her where she expected them to acquire the money for her services. She replied that they would come from her estate, of course. I pointed out to her that those funds would be tied up in her estate for quite some time; hard assets are not liquid assets. She argued that she had money in her bank accounts and that they could draw those funds out to pay for her services. I explained that those accounts would be frozen immediately upon her death until the courts released them according to the instructions in her will and predicated upon the procurement of a death certificate.
It had not occurred to her until our conversation that she was putting her nieces and nephews in such an undesirable predicament. Additionally, I explained to her that her nieces and nephews would be confused at a very stressful and sad time in their lives. Her niece might think that her aunt would want an expensive casket while another might think that she would have wanted a moderately priced casket with a vault instead. Then again, a nephew might think she wanted to be cremated and sprinkled out over the Cote d’Azur. Now let’s add to this, the fact that they each have to personally produce the funds to pay for her services. Also, by the time she passes, some of these nieces and nephews might be married with children. Now we have a potential family nightmare happening. Complicating this situation, these nieces and nephews might have to produce funds on her behalf while anticipating inheriting a substantial amount of funds from her estate. Do they spend the funds on her death, or do they conserve the funds so that once they inherit them, they have a nice little chunk of funds for their family? What were her intentions in leaving these funds behind? Some of her nieces and nephews may think they should spend their aunt’s money on her, while others may think she wanted them to have the funds to make their lives easier. The fact is that there will be unnecessary disagreements and stresses placed on her nieces and nephews because she failed to pre-arrange. By the time we had finished our conversation; my daughter’s friend had a new appreciation for pre-arranging her funeral needs.
My business needed my attention, so I left my daughter in the hospital under the loving care of my sister. I traveled back up to northeast Texas and returned yesterday to Houston to check on my daughter’s recovery. As chance would have it, I met my daughter’s friend once again. I asked her how she was, and she informed me that she was more comfortable with her end of life arrangements. She had taken our conversation to heart and had pre-arranged her funeral needs with a local funeral home. She is now comfortable knowing that her nieces and nephews will not have to experience the tragic burden of second guessing themselves and arguing over her final rites. She has selected her services and pre-funded them. She knows that her beloved nieces and nephews will experience her death with the best chance possible for an uncomplicated grief recovery. With this simple act of pre-planning, she has taken away unnecessary stresses and financial difficulties from them. She has given them a great gift; she has made life’s saddest experience a little more bearable for those she loves.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and professional speaker. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.