Making Your Own Final Arrangements

Attorney Christine S. Anderson
October 2017

If you know me, you may have wondered “Is this woman an overly organized, detail-obsessed control freak?” You may have thought to yourself “She cannot really expect me to follow up on her suggestions for funding my revocable trust to the degree she recommends, can she?” After reading the title to this article, you may now be convinced. Surely, I cannot expect you to spend an hour or two of your time planning your own cremation or burial, can I?

The choices that will need to be made very soon after your death are many. Decisions about how the body of a deceased person is to be handled must be made within a day or so of death. Most family members are physically and emotionally spent when a loved one dies. One of the first tasks they are faced with is visiting the funeral home and making a multitude of decisions. Your loved ones will be faced with a barrage of questions, such as the following. Would you like her to be embalmed? Would you like her to be waked? If she is to be waked, do you want an open casket? Would you like her to be cremated? If she is cremated, who gets to keep her remains? If she is cremated, do you want her remains to be buried? If so, where? Then there is the choice of the casket. There are a wide range of options. You may prefer a casket made of a particular type of wood. If you make your own arrangements, you can choose it for yourself. I bet you didn’t know that if you are going to be cremated, your family can rent a perfectly lovely casket for the wake. They don’t have to purchase a casket to be destroyed during the cremation process. Think about the money that you can save if you do this planning for yourself. Your family may feel that they are being cheap if they don’t go all out. If you make your arrangements for yourself, you can be a bargain hunter!

When you visit your favorite funeral home, you can choose whether or not to pre-pay for your final arrangements. If you don’t want to prepay, the funeral director will still be happy to record your choices and keep a file on you, for future reference.

What if your family cannot agree on how to process your body after your death? New Hampshire law provides that unless the decedent has put his or her wishes in writing regarding who is to have custody and control, then the “next of kin” gets to decide whether to have you waked, cremated and/or buried. You can control who is to be in charge of your body following your death and what your final arrangements will be, but you must take action.

Some people say that the funeral is for the living and that it is important for the survivors to be involved in the planning of the celebration of a loved one’s life. Have no doubt that even if you visit your favorite funeral home and make your own final arrangements, there are many, many details and plans that still need to be made for the funeral or memorial service and for the gathering or reception that is typically hosted after a service. Many families create memory boards with photos of the deceased to display. There will still be plenty for your loved ones to plan, even if you take care of the final arrangements in advance.

You might not consider it the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but imagine how relieved your family members would be if they knew that you had made your own final arrangements. It is an incredibly thoughtful gift to have made these arrangements and spared your spouse, son, daughter or other loved one from this task.