by Carson Kessler
For the funeral industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant flush times. Revenues have surged at Service Corporation International, the largest such chain in the U.S., with more than 1,500 funeral homes and 400 cemeteries. And “COVID impact,” according to a recent investor fact sheet, helped SCI more than double its earnings per share between 2019 and 2021.
Prices for funerals have always been steep. Funeral homes charged a median of $7,848 for a viewing and burial last year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and $6,970 for a cremation. Those costs don’t include the charges from cemeteries, which can add thousands more. ProPublica recently investigated one cemetery whose charges could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The federal government has done little to regulate the industry. Thirty-eight years ago, the Federal Trade Commission tiptoed into this realm, mandating that funeral homes disclose their prices. But cemeteries, some of which are overseen by states, were exempted from those rules. For two years now, the FTC has been conducting a rare review of its rules and examining a wide series of proposals, including extending its rules to cemeteries, requiring that prices be posted online, and disclosing that embalming is not legally required. Presented with a series of questions about the status and timing of the process, an FTC spokesperson would say only “the review is ongoing.”
Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the only national consumer organization that monitors the funeral industry, has been advocating for changes to the FTC’s Funeral Rule for decades. Regardless of what the agency decides, Slocum wants consumers to know their rights, as well as have a few tips at their disposal when preparing to put a loved one to rest.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Many people might be surprised to know that at least part of the death industry is regulated. What is regulated and what isn’t?
Let’s talk about the federal [rules] because that’s most important to the basics of what people need to know. There’s something called the Funeral Rule, a regulation from the Federal Trade Commission, which gives consumers particular rights, and they would be very wise to exercise these rights.
One, they have a right to get price quotes by phone.
Number two, when they go to a funeral home in person to talk about a funeral arrangement, they have a right to a printed, itemized price list — think of it just like a menu at a restaurant.
Number three, they have a right to pick and choose item by item. Funeral homes are not allowed to offer you only a package. They will try to offer you a package and they will often say, “You save money if you buy everything together in a bundle.” But just like all bundles, you have to take a look and see, is this actually something I would have spent money on, on its own? Am I really saving money? Or am I just getting a bunch of things that I wouldn’t have picked anyway?
What are the first steps to take after a loved one’s death?
Number one, remember that death is not an emergency. When death occurs, by definition, that means the emergency is now over. The worst thing that can happen has already happened. The person isn’t going to get any deader, to put it plainly.
Get on the phone and call at least five different funeral homes within a 20- to 30-mile radius of where the dead person is. Get price quotes. Take the time to at least look it over and compare some of the prices before you commit to having the funeral home remove the body. If the person dies at a hospital, which is more common, you have more options. Ask the hospital if the body can stay in the morgue for a couple of days while you make a considered decision about which funeral home to call.
Two, take stock of your budget. You need to know that figure. Decide ahead of time what you can comfortably afford. And for God’s sake, please don’t do this: “Oh, money is no object. It’s my mother. She deserves the best,” and then three months from now, you’ve got a $15,000 bill that you can’t pay.
What happens when you comparison shop?
Anytime you pick five or six funeral homes, all within the same city or region, and you canvass them, you will find that there’s a price difference of thousands of dollars for exactly the same service all within a service area available to you. And you will not know this because the vast majority of people will say, “Oh, well, we just use our family’s funeral home.” And I will ask them, “Why is that the one you always go to?”
The bottom line is nobody has a family car dealer, nobody has a family utility company, nobody has a family anything else. They compare prices and services. The problem here is that because this is the death transaction, and it’s a transaction we’re only going to sign a check for on average once in our lives, we don’t have practice with it. And because it is the most emotional business transaction we will ever encounter, many make the mistake of thinking of the funeral home in the same emotional category that their church lives in. That’s a mistake. Your funeral home is not your minister. Your undertaker is not your counselor. Your undertaker is your car dealer for death. And I do not mean that in an insulting way. I mean it in a straightforward business way.
How did it come to be that funeral homes are governed by some federal regulation, but cemeteries aren’t?
The cemetery regulation is so poor that I consider it an unregulated industry, even if it is technically regulated under state law.
Cemeteries before the 20th century were never considered a capitalistic, profit-making venture. They were, either by law or by community consensus, conceived of as doing a public good, something closer to what the church does. So they were seen as nonprofit community service entities that weren’t subject to regular business regulation. That changed in the 20th century when it did become possible in many parts of the country to run a for-profit cemetery.
But the regulations never caught up. The same kinds of deceptive practices that were documented that led to the Funeral Rule have always been going on at cemeteries.
I think there’s very little chance that the FTC is going to bring cemeteries under the funeral rule this time around. We’ve tried many times. There are complicated reasons for it. One of the reasons is that many cemeteries in many states are organized under nonprofit corporation law. The FTC does not have jurisdiction over that, which is an actual genuine, systemic problem.
What kind of deceptive cemetery practices are you referring to?
The same things as what funeral homes did before the law changed. The FTC rule doesn’t apply to cemeteries, so they don’t have to give out a printed price list. They don’t have to let you pick a la carte. Many cemeteries get up to nonsense games, like if you don’t want to buy that cemetery’s headstone, they get sore that they’re not getting that profit out of you. So if you go to a third-party monument dealer, the cemetery will tack on what they will call an “inspection fee” that just happens to be the exact difference in cost that they lost if you didn’t buy their stone.
What has changed now for the FTC to consider amending the Funeral Rule and what needs to happen for some of these proposals to be implemented?
Well, the FTC needs to act. It’s been two years since the FTC announced that they were reviewing the rule, and a review means considering changes. I don’t have a lot of inside knowledge, but what I can say is in communicating with the staff, I believe that they are taking this issue seriously. I believe that they are seriously considering updating the rule to mandate online pricing for funeral homes.
The current federal regulations entitle you to a paper price list if you show up in person at the funeral home. We believe that funeral homes should have to post their prices on their website. But until they do, you are probably going to have to telephone shop.
Do many funeral homes post their prices online, even though it’s not legally required at this point?
We, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and our partner organization, Consumer Federation of America, have done two surveys on the rate of online price posting. We did one in 2018, sampling 25 cities. We found only 16% of funeral homes posted their price lists online. We just did a new version of the survey, which was greatly expanded to a sample size of 1,046 funeral homes in 35 different states, and we only found 18% of them posting their prices. So no, most funeral homes hide their prices online.
Do you think the industry’s profits from COVID-19 will affect the FTC’s decision?
I think our perception and reaction to COVID has played roles in most things. One of the things that was really unfortunate for funeral consumers is that COVID was exactly the period when an online price list would have been most helpful to grieving families and we didn’t have it. People were afraid to go into businesses in person, or there were actually state-based restrictions about transacting business in person. So a lot of people were making arrangements over the phone or in some long-distance way.
The big corporations, which own hundreds of funeral homes and cemeteries across the country, are opposing changes to the rule — what’s their stated reason? What’s your take?
Things like, “We believe that this is a very personal transaction, and we believe it’s most appropriate for the price discussion to be had in the traditional manner, and consumers aren’t shopping for price anyway, so there’s no need for this.” That’s what they say. It’s not complicated. It’s simply that they don’t want to be regulated. From my point of view, they have a very weak case. First of all, requiring online posting of price lists literally costs the funeral industry $0. Do you know what it costs them? It costs them the time it takes to click that button that says “upload PDF.”
ProPublica asked SCI to comment on the FTC’s rules and Slocum’s characterizations of the company’s position. In a statement, an SCI spokesperson acknowledged that “we oppose additional federal regulations.” The company asserted that “the Funeral Rule has worked well at the federal level” and that “our industry is primarily regulated at the state level, and additional regulation at the federal level is unnecessary.” It emphasized the importance of “having a personal conversation with a licensed funeral director, who acts as the consumer advocate” and said that its research shows consumers believe “price is the least important consideration when comparing service quality, reputation, convenience of location and price.” It also stated that SCI’s pricing is “competitive and reasonable.”
Asked about its profits, SCI said, “As the largest provider of funeral, cemetery and cremation services in North America, we served many families who lost loved ones in the pandemic. The growth was driven by elevated COVID-19 mortality, which resulted in an increase in both funeral services performed and burials in our cemeteries.” The statement added that “we had to scale to serve our communities, often when other funeral homes were overwhelmed and simply could not do so.”
More broadly, how have multibillion-dollar conglomerates like SCI changed the funeral industry?
Here’s the reality: They still only have about 12% of the funeral homes in this country. And that’s been pretty steady over 20 to 30 years. In some cities, places like Seattle, many cities in Florida, where there’s a heavy concentration of elderly people, then SCI has a much greater percentage of the market share. That is true. In those places, SCI particularly tends to be the highest-priced funeral home in any market. So if it matters to you, find out who owns your local funeral home. Just because it still says McGillicuddy on the sign doesn’t mean Mr. McGillicuddy still owns it.
Are there practical things that consumers can do to bring the cost of a funeral down?
The most cost-effective thing is to choose a funeral home that already has reasonable prices. Your choice of funeral home is the No. 1 driver of cost. Once you choose a funeral home, look carefully at their offerings and see how much of it you can afford that’s within your budget. Remember that you can shop a la carte. So if your budget says $2,000, you need to face reality. $2,000 is not going to buy you a traditional funeral with embalming, public viewing of the body, metal casket, graveyard burial. You are not going to get that for $2,000 anywhere in the United States. That means your choice is going to be something like simple cremation, even if that’s not your favorite. People have to be realistic.
Is price negotiation ever an option? How would that work?
Yes, just the same way you would do it with any other business that you were negotiating with. They don’t have to haggle with you, but you have the right to do so. We get people who are like, “Well, the funeral home has already picked up the body and we do like this funeral home, but they’re more expensive than another one we found in town, we simply can’t afford it.” And my suggestion is talk to the funeral director and say, “Listen, you’ve taken good care of us before, we appreciate that you came to pick our grandmother up, but we literally cannot afford your price on this direct burial. We would love to give you our business. Can you meet your competitor’s price? We realize you don’t have to lower your prices. But we would like to do business with you. If you can’t lower your prices, we’ll have to have her body removed to a different place.”
And that’s OK to do?
Well, why wouldn’t it be OK? Here’s what I hear underneath this, and I think you’re channeling it correctly from people: What people are doing is asking for permission. But you’re not breaking a social rule. You’re not being cheap. I know what people are thinking: “I don’t want to do that. It’s gauche. It means I don’t care about my mother.” Stop that. That’s nonsense talk. If you showed how much you loved your mother by how much you spent on her funeral, you’d go bankrupt. Love cannot be expressed by money.
Lastly, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about navigating this process?
Most of what people think they are required to purchase is not true. For example, many people think embalming is legally required if you’re going to view the body. That is not true in any U.S. state. It’s also not true that embalming is required as a condition of being buried in the ground. These are in-house funeral home policies, not laws. So there’s very little that you are legally required to purchase. Basically, the only thing that has to happen, when a person dies, in order to satisfy the laws, there has to be a death certificate signed by a doctor, the body has to be buried, cremated or donated to anatomical science within a certain period of time, and that’s literally all that is required. Everything else is optional.
Go into this transaction knowing that although it’s emotional, you are a consumer, you get to decide what you put in your cart. You’re not obliged to buy these things. These are choices and you should make choices that fit your family’s budget and your family’s emotional preferences.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
By Madeline May
11 End of Life Documents for Mesothelioma & Cancer Patients
Although patients can outlive a prognosis and even reach remission, mesothelioma remains one of the worlds most deadly conditions. This is why mesothelioma patients should take as many measures as possible to ensure their personal finances and responsibilities are covered. Many people have a will prepared, but there are several other end of life documents that are essential family members or patients dealing with mesothelioma. Without these kind of documents, loved ones will have to make difficult decisions on your behalf with no guidance. Although it may be difficult to discuss, Mesothelioma Hub feels it is still necessary to prepare for the worse. Here is our list of eleven essential documents that all families should prepare while dealing with a mesothelioma prognosis.
1) Letter of Competency
A letter of competency is one of the first end of life documents to complete during your planning. A letter of competency is a statement from a mesothelioma doctor or specialist stating that a person is capable of making informed, stable decisions. This end of life document could apply to health care, finances, or estate. A common side effect of mesothelioma treatment is memory loss, confusion, and brain fog. Therefore, it is essential to obtain a letter of competency if applicable.
2) Living Trust End of Life Document
A living trust is another essential piece of end-of-life paperwork. A trust is created and funded during a patient’s lifetime that they can amend or revoke as time goes on. A living trust appoints a person or corporation to act as a “trustee” after their passing. The document also designates the “beneficiaries,” aka the people who receive income or other property from the trust. This trustee manages the trust property for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
The average lifespan for a mesothelioma patient after receiving a diagnosis is 4 – 18 months. A living trust is an end of life document that you should assemble as quickly and efficiently as possible during your end-of-life preparation and especially during the more advanced terminal stages.
3) Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is the legal end of life document specifying a patient’s last wishes pertaining to assets and dependents after death. Although similar to a living trust, the last will controls property directly under the control of the individual and does not include jointly owned assets whereas a living trust controls all assets. Details included in the last will and testament include what to do with possessions, and what will happen with their responsibilities including dependents and management of financials.
4) Letter of Intent
Although not a legal document, a letter of intent can be beneficial for your executor and family members. A letter of intent can act as an end-of-life checklist for your loved ones for wishes not covered in a will. The document can include the location of important legal end of life documents, names and contacts, care for pets, and many more details. It should remain a high priority for those with wishes that can’t be fully explained within other documents.
5) Financial Power of Attorney
The purpose of a financial power of attorney is to designate an agent to handle financial affairs. This person has the legal ability to make decisions about a person’s finances when someone is ill, disabled, or physically not present. The agent should make arrangements in line with the person’s wishes but has full authority to make autonomous decisions until their authority is challenged or revoked by the law.
Many people on their life journey were negligently exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma. This is where your a financial power of attorney can come in and assist with the legal side of things and even pursue legal help and compensation.
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6) Health Care Power of Attorney
If a patient is unable to make medical decisions for themselves, they may choose to have a health care power of attorney. A health care agent should be someone trustworthy and noble as they can:
- Accept, withdraw, or decline treatment
- Agree to admit or discharge a patient from any medical center or institution
- Access medical and mental health records and share them with others
- Carry out plans or make decisions about the body or remains
Throughout the mesothelioma journey, several health-related decisions will need to be made. Whether you are going through treatment or are staying in an assisted living home, a health care power of attorney can assist you in these decisions and maintain important end of life documents.
7) Living Will End of Life Document
A living will is a vital facet of a patient’s end-of-life plans. This document declares a patient’s desire to have death-delaying procedures withheld after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. This end of life document can assist doctors and loved ones if a decision needs to be made about withholding death-delaying procedures.
The medical community considers mesothelioma a terminal illness. If you are interested in death-delaying procedures being withheld, you should complete a living will.
8) Organ Donor Care
Those interested in donating their organs should complete a health care directive stating their wishes. If arrangements have already been made, specifying an end of life document should include all necessary information. If a patient has a health care agent, they can also make the decision with guidance from the patient.
9) HIPAA Release
Health care information of everyone is not accessible by others before or after their death. However, a HIPAA release form shares otherwise protected health information with other individuals or organizations. Patients should file a HIPAA release form if they would like their health care agents or loved ones to have access to their important end of life medical details.
10) DNR Order End of Life Document
A health care provider will typically begin CPR and life-saving activities if the heart or breathing stops, however, people can choose to not receive care under these circumstances. A do not resuscitate (DNR) order states that a patient prefers to not receive CPR in the case that the heart or breathing stops.
Many mesothelioma patients that pass, developed the condition due to negligence. The patient’s loved ones may be eligible to file a wrongful death suit against the individual or company believed to be responsible for negligence. Thats why it’s so important for to keep all your family members end of life documents secured and organized.
11) Digital Asset Instructions
Nowadays, the average person has almost 200 digital accounts including bank, investment, insurance, cryptocurrency, and social accounts. Some of these accounts, if not all, will need attention after a person passes. If these accounts are password protected, a patient should assemble a list of login information. Patients can even assign a digital executor to manage online accounts after they pass.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
What the programs cover, and what they don’t
by Tamara Lytle
What role does the federal government play in assisting Americans in need of long-term care? The answers, which lie primarily within two programs — Medicare and Medicaid — may may surprise you. Here is a breakdown of the services they do and don’t offer.
Does Medicare cover the costs of long-term care?
No. This is a common misconception. As a reminder, Medicare is strictly a health insurance program that covers costs related to illnesses and injuries (and, to some extent, their prevention). As such, it will help pay for up to 100 days of rehabilitation or skilled nursing care after a major health issue, based on a doctor’s recommendation. But longer stays, such as a permanent move into a nursing home, are not covered.
What about Medicare Advantage?
You can check to see if there’s a Medicare Advantage plan in your area that offers limited caregiving assistance. You may be able to find one that provides meals or pays for installation of grab bars, says Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. A small number of so-called special needs plans offer some in-home support services. If a Medicare Advantage plan has a five-star rating, you may switch to it outside of the annual enrollment period.
What about Medicaid?
Medicaid does pay for long-term nursing-home care, but only for people with very low income and modest savings who can no longer handle basic daily tasks like dressing or feeding themselves. Gleckman says a good rule of thumb is that if you have less than $750 in income per month and less than $2,000 in financial assets (not counting a home), you likely qualify for Medicaid.
This excludes a large number of people who draw Social Security, given that the average monthly benefit check is more than $1,600. Remember that Medicaid is meant to help just the very poor. Most middle-class people and even low-income people do not qualify, although sometimes people use up their savings and spend so much of their income on care that they do become eligible.
But also note that the Medicaid program is a partnership between the federal government and each state, meaning criteria for who qualifies and what benefits are available can vary based on where you live. Some states provide some benefits to people with low incomes who are over the basic qualification limit, but they are expected to pay for part of the care.
What about care services at home?
It’s important to distinguish between medical care and daily care needs like bathing, eating, moving about and such.
As noted, Medicare will pay for assistance like physical therapy or skilled nursing care, whether in a facility for short periods or at home, where there is no specific time limit, while a patient is recovering from an illness or injury. A supplemental Medigap policy may help with some at-home medical care costs, Gleckman says.
“But for people who are unable to care for themselves at home and don’t have a family member to help manage their daily activities, Medicare doesn’t fill that gap,” says Tricia Neuman, head of the Kaiser Family Foundation Program on Medicare Policy.
Medicaid is another matter. If you meet its stringent requirements, some recipients can get coverage for aides to help with activities like dressing and toileting, says Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. But even those benefits only go so far. “Medicaid is not going to provide anything remotely like 12 hours of help,” Gleckman notes. And again, benefits — and funding levels — vary by state. Oregon and Minnesota, in particular, have robust programs to help people live at home or in the community instead of in nursing homes.
Veterans should check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which has some programs for those needing ongoing care, including a foster care program through which veterans live with families who can help them. For broader background on long-term care, visit longtermcare.acl.gov. The Area Agencies on Aging are a good clearinghouse for information on nonprofits or other community resources. Go to eldercare.acl.gov.
What if I just need a break as a caregiver?
Some state Medicaid programs pay for adult day programs that offer medical services. And some Medicare Advantage plans are beginning to offer coverage for adult day care and other breaks for family members, says Robert Saunders, senior research director for health care transformation at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. “There are more options now than there used to be.”
In end-of-life situations, Medicare will pay for respite care in hospice. That palliative care coverage is available when someone is considered to be in the final six months of life.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
- Your end-of-life experience may be very different depending on where you live, according to a Policygenius report.
- The report ranks the best and worst U.S. places to die based on funeral costs and services, green burials, palliative care, Medicare providers, at-home deaths and probate shortcuts.
By Kate Dore, CFP®
Your end-of-life experience may be very different depending on where you live, according to a Policygenius report that ranks the country’s best and worst places to die.
The report gave each state and the District of Columbia a numerical score based on seven factors, including funeral costs and services, green burials, palliative care, Medicare providers, at-home deaths and probate shortcuts.
“I think the big takeaway of this project is to get people thinking about the costs associated with the end of life,” said Logan Sachon, senior managing editor of research at Policygenius. “Because some of them can be mitigated through planning.”
“If you look at the top 10 and bottom 10, there aren’t any specific things they all have in common,” Sachon said. “They are each kind of unique in their own way.”
Indeed, Vermont, ranked as the No. 1 place to die, was among the most expensive for funeral costs but scored highest for palliative care, which focuses on pain relief, management and emotional support.
Florida, known for its high population of retirees, came in last place, with the fewest Medicare providers per capita, and scored low for at-home deaths and palliative care.
The best places in the U.S. to die
- South Dakota
- Colorado (tie)
- Illinois (tie)
- New Hampshire
The worst places in the U.S. to die
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
It’s never too early for older Americans to prepare for end of life, Sachon said.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted awareness about the need to be proactive, 67% of Americans still don’t have an estate plan, according to senior living referral service Caring.com.
Experts recommend an advanced directive, also known as a living will, covering your medical care preferences. You’ll also need a health-care proxy or power of attorney, naming someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if needed.
The report also focuses on each state’s probate process, which determines the cost and time it takes to settle your estate.
As of June 2021, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have an estate or inheritance tax, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
With different laws in every state, a local estate planning attorney may share some options to protect your assets and carry out your wishes, depending on where you live.
There’s no federal estate tax on wealth below $12.06 million for individuals in 2022, and with proper planning, married couples can transfer their unused exemption to their surviving spouse, effectively doubling it to $24.12 million.
However, this reverts to an estimated $6 million exemption in 2026 when provisions from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act sunset.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
By Erica Sloan
As a thing that most people try to avoid, death isn’t a common topic of conversation. After all, discussing it requires confronting its inherent inevitably—but avoiding discussions surrounding it doesn’t just bring blissful ignorance, either. In fact, this tactic can leave your loved ones in the lurch when death does arrive. That’s why estate-planning attorneys suggest considering in advance how you’ll discuss your plans for death with your family, and above all, making a point to do so.
Death comes along with an emotional and logistical cascade of concerns for those close to the person who passed. While working with a palliative-care professional or death doula once death becomes imminent can certainly help with the emotional side of things, creating an estate plan ahead of time mitigates stress related to the logistics. “This is why we always say every adult should have a will,” says estate-planning attorney Rosalyn Carothers, JD. “For one, that allows you to direct what happens to any of your assets, and two, you’re making it easier and less expensive for your family members to help, as you’d have seen fit.”
“If you indicate clearly [to family members], ‘Here is my plan,’ then everyone can get on the same page, and it’s harder for someone to feel like they’re getting cheated.” —Patrick Hicks, JD, general counsel at Trust & Will
But, because of the inherent sensitivity of a will—deciding who gets what and what goes where—creating one only gets you halfway to solid death preparations. Learning how to discuss your plans for death with loved ones is the other half, both so that they know exactly where to find all the relevant documents in the event of death, and also so that they can help ensure your wishes are carried out effectively, without confusion, disagreement, or unwelcome surprises. “If you indicate clearly, ‘Here is my plan,’ then everyone can get on the same page, and it’s harder for someone to feel like they’re getting cheated, so to speak, when push comes to shove,” says estate planning attorney Patrick Hicks, JD, general counsel at Trust & Will.
Below, estate-planning attorneys share the key elements of end-of-life planning to talk about explicitly with family members, so that everyone knows what to expect should the unexpected occur.
What to discuss with family about end-of-life issues, according to estate planning attorneys
1. End-of-life wishes
A handful of both pre- and post-death desires fit into this category—which covers what you’d like to happen in the event that you’re incapacitated or terminally ill (the details of which can be legalized in a living will) and how you’d like your body to be handled should you pass (like your preferences for burial or cremation, for instance). “You really want to let folks in your life know, ‘Hey, if I’m in this circumstance, do this or don’t do this,’ regarding life support, in particular, so that loved ones feel like they are intimately aware of what you would’ve wanted,” says Carothers.
Even if it’s all legally delineated in your estate plan, talking about these desires openly can spare the people in your life who survive you from some very difficult conversations, says Hicks. It’s also worth mentioning that, in the same conversation, you should tell loved ones exactly where they can find the documents detailing these wishes, so that there’s no need to search for them if and when the time comes.
2. Who will handle what when death nears
Once you start considering your plans for death, you’ll quickly run up against what Carothers calls the “who’s its” and the “what’s its.” This refers to “who” in your life is going to handle “what,” logistically speaking, when you’re about to pass and afterward—which is another big source of potential death-related conflict that can often be avoided with a conversation.
The most contentious roles to consider are who you’ll appoint as your financial and health-care agents under your powers of attorney, or the person (or people) you’re choosing to handle your finances and taxes and your medical decisions, respectively, whenever you become unable to do so. “Sometimes, people don’t want to speak to their kids or siblings about this because they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” says Carothers. “But, it’s better to let these loved ones know upfront who you’re choosing for what and why.” That way, there’s less chance of a dispute after the fact.
The same goes for clarifying whom you’ll be naming as the executor of your estate (once you have a will in place or while you’re creating one). This is the person who will settle your accounts, manage your personal assets, and disseminate the right assets to the designated beneficiaries of your will after you pass. Talking about this with family members lets everyone know whom they should turn to for any will-related matters post-death.
3. People to call in the event of an accident
Chances are, you may not even know exactly who among a parent or sibling’s friends or acquaintances you should contact directly should they become incapacitated or die. And if you do, it’s even likelier that you don’t have their contact info handy. “Nowadays, everything is just saved in everybody’s cell phones, but what happens if you lose a loved one’s phone in an accident or you just can’t unlock it?” says Carothers.
That’s why she suggests everyone keep a list of the few close friends whom they’d like to be contacted should something happen to them, along with their contact information, and inform loved ones where they can find it in the event of an accident. Also on that list should be the name and contact info of your accountant and homeowner’s insurance agent, if either or both applies, adds Carothers, since these are usually the most important people to reach in any situation where someone is nearing death.
4. Sentimental assets
Surprisingly, it’s often the sentimental pieces of property that tend to create the most tension among a decedent’s family members, says Hicks. “With valuable assets, a lot of the time, it gets quickly resolved, either according to the specific plan in place, or in a way where things get divided equally,” he says. “But it’s the things that don’t have a lot of economic value, but that have sentimental value which are typically not accounted for in a will, and then get fought over.”
That could mean a family photo album, an antique, a special piece of artwork, or any other kind of family heirloom that can’t just be cut up into parts and divided equally. “Not having a conversation upfront about who’s going to get which of these items often leads to disputes and disagreements,” Hicks says. Talking explicitly about sentimental pieces in advance can certainly get ahead of these potential arguments, though Carothers also suggests checking to see if your state allows you to file a memorandum along with your will that can include a written file of all these items, listing the person’s name to whom each should go.
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