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Plan Ahead

How to Create a Memorial Page on Facebook and Instagram

By Estate Planning, Grief/Loss, Memorial

More and more, people across the globe are cultivating a social media presence. Some put more effort into it than others, but for many of us, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are a normal part of life. But what happens to these online profiles when someone dies? Today, let’s talk about the ins and outs of creating a memorial page on Facebook and Instagram.

The Importance of Digital Estate Planning

You may associate estate planning with a will or power of attorney, but digital estate planning is an important, often overlooked part of estate planning. It’s just as valuable to provide instructions for online accounts, digital assets, and social media profiles as it is to write down your wishes for physical holdings. To learn more about digital estate planning, take a moment to read Managing your Digital Estate and How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple.

Now, let’s move on to Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook Memorial Page

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Facebook

With Facebook, you have two options after death: delete the account or create a memorial page. Thankfully, Facebook has clear-cut instructions on how to do both of these things.

The most common reason to turn a Facebook page into a memorial is to create a place where family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances can process grief together and offer condolences to surviving family members. People can post memories, offer words of encouragement and sympathy, share photos, and more. Let’s start by going over a few pieces of key information!

Was a Legacy Contact chosen?

With Facebook, estate planning means designating a Legacy Contact. In other words, you tell Facebook who should manage your account after your death (often a spouse, close friend, or family member). The Legacy Contact can monitor your profile by deleting or memorializing the account, accepting friend requests, pinning tribute posts, updating profile and cover photos, and more. However, a Legacy Contact cannot log in to the account to view private messages or remove past posts, photos, or friends.

Currently, you can only add a Facebook friend as a Legacy Contact. When you select a Legacy Contact, Facebook gives you the option to notify that person right away, which is recommended so that person is in the know about your wishes. To learn how to add a Legacy Contact, go to How Do I Add, Change, or Remove a Legacy Contact?

On the other hand, if you’ve been added as a Legacy Contact to someone’s account and aren’t sure how to manage a memorialized Facebook page, go to How Do I Manage a Memorialized Profile on Facebook? for some helpful tips.

What if there is no designated Legacy Contact?

That’s okay. Family members can simply reach out to Facebook directly with a request to memorialize the account. However, memorialized accounts with no Legacy Contact can’t be changed in any way. To request that an account without a Legacy Contact be memorialized, go to the Memorialization Request.

What happens when you memorialize a Facebook page?

Memorialization locks the account and prevents anyone from logging in. While a Legacy Contact can’t log in to the account anymore, they can still make decisions on basic functions, like viewing posts, removing tags, updating profile and cover images, etc.

Additionally, a memorialized account will no longer appear in “search” results. However, any existing friends can still view the page and share photos, memories, and wall messages. The word “Remembering” will appear next to the deceased person’s name on their profile.

For a full list of links to helpful information, go to All You Need to Know about Facebook Memorialized Accounts.

Option 2: Deleting a Facebook Account

Alternatively, you can choose to have an account deleted instead. Keep in mind, if/when Facebook learns of a death, their policy is to memorialize the account if no instructions were left behind (i.e. no Legacy Contact and no request to delete the account).

If you are completing your own digital estate planning and want your account permanently deleted after your passing, go to Settings. Click Manage Account. Scroll down until you see Request that your account be deleted after you pass away and follow the prompts.

If you would like to delete the Facebook account of a deceased family member, you can reach out to Facebook directly. To learn more about the process and the required documentation, click here. Once you have your documentation gathered together, you can use the Special Request Form to begin the process of deleting the account. Please be aware, Facebook cannot provide you with login information for someone else’s account even after a death has occurred, but they can either delete or memorialize the account.

That’s it for Facebook – let’s move on to Instagram.

Instagram Memorial Page

While Instagram has been working on its memorial options for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their efforts. Now, similar to Facebook, you can either memorialize or delete an Instagram account.

Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Instagram

While Instagram now offers the ability to memorialize accounts, they do not currently allow you to designate a digital heir (Facebook calls this person a Legacy Contact). However, with the proper documentation, you can memorialize a loved one’s Instagram account after their death.

What are the key features of a memorialized Instagram account?

With a memorialized account:

  • The account locks and no one can log in.
  • The word “Remembering” appears on the person’s profile.
  • Any posts the deceased shared prior to death will stay visible.
  • You can no longer make changes to photos, videos, comments, privacy settings, or the current profile picture. Also, followers and the pages the deceased was following cannot be changed.

However, if you feel a comment or post on a memorialized profile violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines or Terms of Use, you can report it to Instagram by going to How to Report a Comment or How to Report a Post.

How do you memorialize an Instagram account?

The first step is to put in a request. When Instagram receives a valid request (regardless of whom that request is from), they will memorialize the account. To ensure that the request is valid, you must provide proof of death, such as an obituary or a news article. Just like Facebook, Instagram will not give out login information.

With a validated request, Instagram will memorialize the account. To submit a request to memorialize an account, go to the Request to Memorialize and fill it out.

Option 2: Removing an Instagram Account

The second option is to remove/delete the account. To entirely remove an account from Instagram, the requester must provide evidence that they are an immediate family member of the deceased.

Accepted forms of proof that you are an immediate family member are:

  • The deceased person’s birth certificate
  • The deceased person’s death certificate
  • Proof of authority under local law that you represent the deceased person

To request the removal of an Instagram account, you must complete the Removal Request and submit the required documentation.

Thankfully, both Facebook and Instagram have made the process simple and clear. Now that you know more about how to memorialize or delete accounts, take some time to carefully consider the best way to move forward. Every person is different, so decide what’s best for you and your family and do that. It may mean memorializing a lost loved one’s account so that friends and family can share memories and photos. It may mean removing the account entirely because it’s too painful to manage. There’s no right or wrong answer – just what makes the most sense for your needs.

Why Should Veterans Plan Ahead?

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Veterans

As veterans, you gave a part of your life in committed service to our nation, and we offer you a sincere and heartfelt thank you. But did you know that you can also do a great service and offer a gift of love to your family by planning ahead?

While no one likes to think about their own death, the fact remains that, one day, your family will need to make dozens of hard decisions to arrange your final life tribute. They will want to gather together, offer support to one another, remember you, and honor your legacy, including your noble service in the armed forces. Even if you don’t want a big fuss, the fact still remains: someone will be responsible for making funeral plans for you. Why couldn’t that person be you?

Why Plan Ahead?

There are so many reasons to plan ahead, but here are the top five.

1. Planning ahead can actually save your family money.

When most people are called upon to plan a funeral, they are doing so for the first time in their lives. Because of this, surviving family members don’t know very much about how to keep costs from ballooning and often end up emotionally overspending because they want “only the best” for you. However, if you put your plan in writing and your family knows exactly what your wishes are, they are generally able to save considerably by avoiding unnecessary spending.

2. Planning ahead allows your family to spend more time together.

At the time of loss, the last thing family members want to do is spend several hours at a funeral home making arrangements. With a plan in place that outlines your wishes for a final tribute, your family is able to spend more time together, offering comfort, support, and love to one another at a time when they need it most.

3. Planning ahead helps avoid arguments.

We are emotional beings, some more than others. The loss of a loved one often brings out those emotions, and if a family is torn about which options to choose, feelings can tend to run high. Even when a general consensus is reached, family members can sometimes continue to feel anxiety, doubt, and regret about the decisions that were made and how they were made. However, when family members know exactly what you want, they experience greater peace knowing that they are honoring your final wishes.

4. Planning ahead gives you time to create a meaningful and healing final tribute.

The more personal the service is, the more meaningful it will be. By planning ahead, you give yourself and your family time to plan and prepare a service (burial or cremation) that truly reflects your life and meets the emotional needs of your family. It will also give you time to mull over other questions, like whether you want to include military honors at the funeral or if you’d like to ask any fellow veterans to participate.

5. Planning ahead brings peace of mind even before you die.

Have you ever completed a big project and just felt a weight lift off your shoulders? That’s what it feels like when you finally take that step and plan ahead for your funeral wishes. Not only does it bring you peace of mind, but it can also bring comfort to family members who know that they won’t have to face those difficult decisions on one of the worst days of their lives.

Also, by planning ahead, you can ensure that you know exactly what you qualify for regarding veterans’ burial benefits. With these benefits provided by the Veterans Administration, you can further alleviate the financial burden left for your family.

What Are Your Burial Benefits?

While the Veterans Administration (VA) does not pay for everything, they do offer assistance that will help you take care of your family and create a healing and meaningful funeral ceremony.

Eligibility

The first step is to determine if you are eligible to receive the burial benefits available. The main thing to remember is that those who received honorable or general discharges qualify while those who received dishonorable discharges do not qualify. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact your local VA office.

Dependents and survivors of veterans may also be eligible for VA benefits. This means that your current spouse and any dependents are also eligible to receive certain burial benefits because of your service.

Now, let’s review the five main burial benefits available to you:

Burial Allowances

Generally speaking, when a veteran’s cause of death is not service-related, the reimbursement is described as two payments:

  1. (1) a burial and funeral expense allowance (associated with funeral or memorial options)
  2. (2) a plot interment allowance (associated with burial costs)

In a nutshell, the burial allowance is a designated dollar amount that the VA pays toward a veteran’s funeral. To receive this benefit, your family must apply following your death (or the death of a spouse or dependent child). The VA will direct deposit a designated amount into your family’s account. Then, they put it toward paying burial/cremation and funeral service costs. Due to rising costs each year, the VA increases the burial and plot allowance amounts annually.

For more detailed information on eligibility, click here.

Cemetery Interment Benefits

Choosing a final resting place is a very personal decision, and it’s always good to know your options. In the VA’s eyes, there are three types of cemeteries: national, state veterans, and private.

National Cemetery 

In addition to burial allowances, the VA also offers burial (cremated or full body) in a national cemetery through the National Cemetery Administration (www.cem.va.gov). This benefit includes a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, and a government-issued headstone. While placement is based on availability, you, your spouse, and any dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Of course, as with anything, there are certain rules and guidelines.

There is no charge for a burial plot in a national cemetery. Because of this, the plot allowance is not available for burial in a national cemetery. In some cases, the VA may even pay for the cost of transporting a deceased veteran to the national cemetery. Speak to a funeral director or your regional VA office to get more details.

State Veterans Cemetery 

A second option for burial is a state veterans cemetery. These cemeteries are facilitated by the individual states, not by the National Cemetery Administration, so regulations will vary. Because of this, you or a funeral professional will need to contact your nearby state veterans cemetery to see if there are any fees associated with burial there and if they allow dependents to be buried on the grounds. However, you will be eligible for a government-issued headstone as well as the plot allowance.

Private Cemeteries 

If you choose burial in a private cemetery, then you will be responsible for cemetery costs on your own. However, you will be eligible for the plot allowance to assist with the total cost. Again, you are still eligible to receive a government-issued headstone or medallion. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery receive no benefits.

Government-Issued Headstones or Medallions

The VA will provide a government headstone or medallion to mark the grave of an eligible veteran. If you want, you can even request a government headstone for eligible dependents if they are not buried in a private cemetery. The headstone can be placed in any cemetery around the world, but the grave must be unmarked.

Additionally, if you prefer burial in a private cemetery, you can request to receive a medallion. Medallions are durable and can be easily affixed to any headstone. They offer a way to identify a veteran who elects to use a more personalized grave marker.

Click here to view the headstone and medallion options available through the National Cemetery Administration.

Burial Flags

Because the American flag is a symbol of your service and sacrifice, its presence is a tribute to your life. Due to its importance, the VA provides an American flag to drape the casket or urn, and after the funeral service, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag is issued per veteran.

Presidential Memorial Certificates

Finally, the VA offers a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), which is an engraved certificate, signed by the current President, that is given to honor your memory and your service.

So, these five elements make up the basic lineup of burial benefits that are available to an eligible veteran. There are many details to the whole process. That’s why it’s important to work with a funeral professional and your local VA office. They will ensure you have all the answers you need.

What’s Next?

Now you know why planning ahead is beneficial and which burial benefits are available to you. The next step is to reach out to a local funeral home and get started! Do a little research and find a funeral home with a good reputation. To help you, take a moment to read 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home.

Once you’ve selected a funeral home, their staff will walk you through the rest of the process. They will make sure you don’t miss any details. With all the decisions made, you and your family will have peace of mind, knowing that everything has been taken care of.

5 Powerful TED Talks about Grief and End-of-Life Wishes

By Grief/Loss, Plan Ahead

Planning for end-of-life wishes and walking through grief can both be very difficult seasons in life. But you don’t have to walk through them alone. Others have gone before us who aren’t afraid to discuss their ups and downs through the journey. In these 5 powerful TED talks, each speaker shares part of their own personal journey with grief and the lessons they learned and wisdom they gained as a result. As they bare their hearts and share their stories, may you find comfort and peace but also the inspiration to grow in the way you think, feel, and process grief and death.

5 Powerful TED Talks About Grief and End-of-Life Wishes

The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage (Susan David)

When faced with loss and the difficult seasons of life, our emotions can sometimes feel like a hindrance rather than a help. In her powerful presentation, Susan David discusses the value of emotions while also emphasizing the importance of resilience and emotional dexterity. In this deeply moving, at times humorous, talk, she discusses the passing of her father and how that event catapulted her into learning how to recognize and acknowledge emotions while also working toward accepting and processing them in a healthy way.

We Don’t “Move On” from Grief – We Move Forward with It (Nora McInerny)

Following the loss of a loved one, many of us may have heard the words, “It’s time to move on.” While the person may have had good intentions, these words aren’t necessarily helpful. In this TED talk, Nora McInerny shares her own personal grief story and candidly discusses what we often think and what we’d like to say when other people say the wrong thing during times of grief. In her own words, she encourages her listeners to remember that “A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. They’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”

The Journey through Loss and Grief (Jason Rosenthal)

Losing a loved one is never easy. In this brutally honest, at times sweetly funny, and yet heart-wrenching story, Jason Rosenthal discusses the difficulties of caring for a dying loved one through hospice. Before she died, Jason’s wife, Amy, wrote a widely read article giving her husband permission to move on and find happiness. In this talk, given just one year after her death, Jason shares candid insights into the process of grieving and offers heartfelt wisdom for anyone experiencing life-changing grief.

What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death (Lucy Kalanithi)

Even in the face of death, life is precious and worth living. That’s what Lucy Kalanithi and her husband, Paul, found as they faced his terminal diagnosis. In her dually-focused talk, Lucy shares about her end-of-life journey with Paul while also advocating for people to pursue medical care that best fits their personal values. In the end, she says that both she and Paul learned that, “Engaging in the full range of experience — living and dying, love and loss — is what we get to do. Being human doesn’t happen despite suffering — it happens within it.”

Talk About Your Death while You’re Still Healthy (Michelle Knox)

In general, we avoid talking about death and all the trappings that come with it. But is that really the best approach? In this straightforward yet heartfelt talk, Australian Michelle Knox explores a topic most of us avidly avoid: death. She asks us to reflect on our core values and intentionally share them with our loved ones. That way, when we are gone, our surviving family members can make informed decisions without fearing that they have failed to honor our legacy.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state. 

Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Planning a funeral after a loved one dies may seem overwhelming at first, and that’s okay. So many of us have never planned a funeral before and simply don’t know where to start. To help grieving families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that will touch hearts and meaningfully celebrate someone loved 

Whether you are planning for a loved one’s final tribute or are planning ahead for your own, the most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.  

Music 

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre 
  • Consider whether you want music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings 
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play a tribute song 
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs 

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?  

Readings 

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows 
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book 
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations 
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own writing or incorporate catchphrases they were known for 
  • If you are planning aheadconsider writing a message ahead of time to be read at the service 

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony. 

Viewing/Visitation 

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.  

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – the story of a lifetime. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)  
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later) 
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.) 
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree 
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside 
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event 

Eulogy 

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to take care and spend concentrated time deciding what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes 
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died 
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or were known to cherish 
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others 

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy 

Symbols 

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. For instance, we send flowers or bake casseroles to convey the love we feel and the support we offer.   

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one 

How to Personalize: 

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral 
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point 
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item 
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort 
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol 

Gathering 

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people. 

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Have the gathering at your lost loved one’s favorite restaurant 
  • Choose a venue that meant something to the person who has died (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.) 
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods 
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos 
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors 
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories 
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree 

Actions  

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.) 
  • Incorporate keepsake items 
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage 
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance 
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers 

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your ownUltimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that accurately reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.  

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.

5 Obituary Writing Tips We Can Learn From Viral Obituaries

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

If we’re honest, all too often obituaries are a little formulaic and offer only a few facts and details. They don’t truly reflect the person who has died – their personality, life circumstances, decisions, or impact on the world around them. While not every obituary will go viral, there are a few things you can learn from viral obituaries that will help you craft an obituary that reflects the unique life of the person you love.

Before we begin, it’s valuable to understand the purpose of the obituary. Dating back to around 59 B.C., the obituary has evolved over time. In our current day, it serves both as an announcement of the death and service details and as an opportunity to honor, remember, and celebrate a life in a meaningful way.

5 Obituary Writing Tips We Can Learn from Viral Obituaries

Below, we are going to look at 5 obituaries that have gone viral in the last few years and take away a helpful tip from each one.

1. Paint a picture

It’s hard to connect to someone when you don’t know them and can’t see them. But good obituaries do just that. They make you wish you’d known the person who has died. You feel like you could connect to them in some way. So, make an effort to paint a picture of your loved one’s life. Discuss what made them unique and one-of-a-kind. In Joe Heller’s viral obituary, his family chose to highlight his mischievous side, focusing on his pranks, his frugality, and his charm.

Since every person is different, choose a few characteristics that clearly define your loved one’s life and personality. Focus on bringing those few aspects to life as you paint a picture.

2. Be genuine

Every life has its ups and downs. Some may be more up and others more down. As you write an obituary, it’s important to be genuine. This doesn’t mean that you give away secrets or expose dirty laundry. It simply means that you strive for authenticity and sincerity.

For example, in Bill Ebeltoft’s viral obituary, his family openly spoke about his mental health struggles after the Vietnam War and how that experience deeply affected the rest of his life. By the end of the obituary, you come to care about Bill and wish that he had been dealt a different hand. His family didn’t expose anything deeply personal or inappropriate. You can tell from the tone and the wording that they deeply love Bill and want to mourn him in a genuine and sincere way.

As you craft an obituary, you will put a little bit of yourself into the words. As you write, get in touch with what you feel about your loved one and lace the words with your own sincerity.

3. Find a balance

Every personality is different, and they each come with their quirks. That’s why it’s always good to find a balance when writing an obituary. Write about the good, the bad, the funny, and the serious. The key to finding balance is often in the voice and tone you use. For instance, in Tim Schrandt’s viral obituary, the family set a tone somewhere between humorous and irreverent. But it works. You get a sense of who Tim was as a person while also understanding that he may have been a handful. His family didn’t beat around the bush, but they found a balance that honored Tim’s life and his quirks.

Your loved one may be a “character,” or they may be the sweetest, most genteel person you know. Either way, find a way to balance the different aspects of their life and character as you paint the picture of their life.

4. Offer specifics

Sometimes, it’s the details that make the difference. As you write the obituary, don’t be afraid to liberally sprinkle the little details into the mix. For instance, in an obituary she wrote herself, Dorothy McElhaney called herself the “Grand Diva of All Things Domestic” after she got married. In her viral obituary, Dorothy went into detail about her childhood remembrances, her beloved family, and even makes mention of blue ribbons she won at the State Fair for her famous sugar cookies. It’s the details that make Dorothy’s obituary sweet, thoughtful, and genuine. She shares openly about herself, wanting us to know her and the life she lived.

5. Inspire others

One last thing we can learn from viral obituaries is that they can be used to inspire others. When you are genuine, real, and vulnerable, you can truly touch hearts and make positive change in the lives of others. Take Sonia Todd. Knowing she was dying of cancer, Sonia decided to write her own obituary, which went viral several years after her death. She spoke of being real, sharing the truth, loving people, admitting mistakes, and doing something worthwhile.

You don’t have to be famous or notable to make a difference in the world. Sometimes, you just need to be sincere, be honest, and encourage others to live their best life.

A Final Note

It would be remiss if we didn’t also talk about what not to say in an obituary. In recent years, some obituaries have gone viral because they were used as a place to release pent-up negative emotions. These types of obituaries go viral for two main reasons: 1) they are shocking, and 2) people are concerned about the emotional health of the person who wrote the obituary.

While you may have feelings of anger, disappointment, even rage, toward the person who has died, the obituary is not the place to find healing. As we discussed earlier, the obituary announces service details and meaningfully celebrates a life. If you can’t honestly celebrate the life of your family member, that’s okay. Simply don’t write an obituary. Or, ask someone who has never met your family member to write the obituary with just the facts and service details.

Unfortunately, every person does not bring joy, happiness, and encouragement to others. Sometimes, the person who has died was abusive or hurtful. Instead of writing an obituary, consider taking some time alone to write down everything that needs to be said. Write the good, the bad, the very ugly. Then, take action. Burn the words you’ve written, rip them up, get rid of them somehow. This symbolic act can serve as a release, a way of taking back your life and refusing to be a prisoner to that person’s influence any longer. Don’t let them rob you of healing and wholeness. Get the emotions out on paper, release them totally from your life, and breathe freely for the first time in a long time. Your family member is gone. Holding onto the pain will only hurt you. Instead, turn over a new leaf and begin a new season in your life.

More Resources

To learn more about the building blocks of writing an obituary, go to How to Write a Great Obituary.

To see some examples of simple yet personalized obituaries, go to 5 Great Obituary Examples.

How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple

By Estate Planning

There’s no denying that the internet is here to stay. Twenty-five years ago, the internet was just a baby, but now, it’s a huge part of people’s lives. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 81% of Americans go online daily. That’s huge! We now do our banking, our shopping, and most of our research online, which means that we all have a lot of online accounts to keep track of.

With so many accounts, what would happen to them if something were to happen to you? Have you considered the importance of taking time to prepare your digital estate plan in addition to writing a will, putting advance care directives in place, or planning ahead for funeral wishes?

First, What Is a Digital Estate?

Getting your affairs in order is an important task to accomplish, and your digital estate is just one piece of the puzzle. Just so you have a clear definition of what your digital assets are, they include:

  • Personal email accounts
  • Online bank and brokerage accounts (including credit cards, retirement plans, loans, insurance, etc.)
  • Social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Websites you may own (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.)
  • Online retail accounts (including eBay, Amazon, and iTunes)
  • Photo- or video-sharing sites like YouTube or Flickr
  • Music sites (Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
  • Subscription sites (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.)
  • PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, or other online payment accounts
  • Utility bills you may pay online
  • And a multitude of other things (frequent flier accounts, fitness app accounts, etc.)

After looking at the list, how many digital accounts do you think you have? Do you have a plan in place to ensure that your data is protected and taken care of after your passing?

6 Simple Tips to Successful Digital Estate Planning

Planning for your digital estate may seem complicated and a little overwhelming, but with time and a few tips, you can mark this necessary task off your list. Let’s get started.

Keep Track of Your Online Accounts

According to a recent report on digital estate planning, the average internet user has around 90 different accounts. With that many accounts, it just makes sense to keep track of the profiles you have out there, whether it’s social media profiles, email addresses, online banking, credit cards companies, or simply an app you use for rewards at a local restaurant. Write down or use a password protector (like LastPass or Sticky Password) to keep track of your usernames/passwords and make sure that a loved one or emergency contact knows where to find them if the need arises.

Decide What Should Be Done with Each Account

You will also need to decide what should be done with each individual account. This may mean requesting that some accounts be deleted entirely, while for others, it may mean turning an account into a memorial page. Each business or social media platform is different so you may need to do a little research as you make your plans.

For example, Facebook and Instagram can either delete an account completely or “memorialize” it, meaning that any friends can still view the profile and post memorial messages (the account is secured so no one can sign in). Twitter and LinkedIn will work with family members to delete an account, but they won’t give anyone access to the account.

Determine What Should Be Done with Your Digital Content

It’s also important to think about what should be done with any digital content. Should your Flickr photos be sent to family members? If you have unused iTunes credits, do you want to give them to someone? Are there videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube that you’d like removed? If you have a blog, do you want the blog deleted but the content saved somehow? All of these are great questions to ask about any digital content you may possess.

Make Sure Your Emergency Contacts Know How to Access Your Information

You should select a person to serve as your digital executor. This person may be the same person you choose to serve as the executor of your will or one of your emergency contacts. The most important thing is to decide who will take care of your digital assets should something happen to you. If you would like your digital executor to be a different person than the executor of your will, you can include roles in your will so that everyone is clear about who should do what. The clearer you can make things, the easier it will be for everyone left behind to manage your estate the way you want.

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you are concerned about making sure that you’ve crossed every T and dotted every I, then consider talking to an estate planning attorney. They will be able to help you through the process of planning for your physical estate as well as your digital estate. You can discuss adding any language that may be needed to grant authority to your executor regarding your digital assets. Also, if you’ve already put together a will or other legal documentation but forgot about including digital assets, you might consider going back to update your documentation so that it’s the most current.

Update, Update, Update

We can all agree that things change almost constantly. Because of this fact, it’s important to always update your information. If you create a new account, add it to the list you’re keeping. If you delete one, take it off. Take time to review privacy policies (even if you only review the ones for your most-used accounts). While this whole planning process may take some time, it will be worth it in the end. Both you and your family will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything – including your digital assets – have been considered and taken care of.

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Precare

No matter how far back you look in history, you will find evidence of funeral rituals. Within us, we have an innate need to honor, respect, and remember those who have died. Those we have loved. Funerals, as a ritual, don’t exist simply to exist. They have purpose and intentionality and meaning.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has done extensive research into the purposes of a funeral and why we, as people, need them. He says, “The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.  Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.

In Dr. Wolfelt’s experience, if a funeral meets these 6 purposes, then it is often meaningful and healing. Let’s review these 6 purposes of a funeral in detail, so that we fully understand why funerals are so necessary and how they help us in our grief journeys.

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

Reality

When someone we love dies, our minds and hearts rebel against it at first. We don’t want to accept that the person we loved is gone. The first purpose of a funeral is to help us accept the reality of the death. In order to heal and grieve, we must first accept what has happened. At a healing and meaningful funeral, mourners have the chance to confront reality and begin processing their grief. The funeral is not the end of the grief journey – it is the beginning. We must learn to come to grips with our new reality – one without our loved one.

Recall

One of the key components of a funeral is remembering the one who has died. We see this happen in the eulogy, in the tribute video (if there is one), in the songs or readings chosen, as well as in the gathering of friends and family following the service. By recalling and sharing about our relationship with a loved one, we help ourselves transition. We begin the process of moving our relationship with the one who has died to one of memory rather than presence. We must go backward into our memories before we can move forward in our grief journeys.

Support

A third purpose of the funeral is to activate support. At a funeral, we gather with other people who knew our loved one. We can share our memories, give voice to our feelings, and find support in others. When a funeral includes a visitation or a gathering, mourners have the opportunity to come together and offer a listening ear and a caring hug. When no service is held, friends may keep their distance, thinking that the family wants to grieve privately. But with a public funeral, friends and neighbors can offer their caring support during a trying time.

Expression

As human beings, we are wired to feel. When we feel deeply but actively suppress our emotions, those feelings can become unbearable and begin to fester. Funerals are meant to act as a safe place for us to get our thoughts and emotions out. By putting our thoughts and feelings into action, we begin the journey toward healing. You may need to talk, cry, or just sit quietly with a person who cares. Whatever you may need, expression is an important purpose of a funeral. Through expression, we begin to put our grief in motion and create forward movement in the grief journey.

Meaning

When someone we love dies, many questions begin to surface. Did the person I love live a good life? Why did this person die? Why do any of us die? While there are no simple answers to these questions, a funeral gives us time and opportunity to ask them and begin to find our way to answers that give us peace. By searching for meaning and allowing ourselves to find peace, we find purpose in our continued living and can work toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we have suffered.

Transcendence

The final purpose of a funeral is transcendence. This happens in two ways. First, the funeral helps us find a new self-identity. Funerals help us publicly mark a change in status. For example, someone who has lost their spouse goes from someone who is married to someone who is single. A funeral allows everyone to publicly acknowledge this change and begin offering the mourner support in their new status. Second, funerals often wake us up and make us think about our lives and how we want to spend our remaining days.

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way:

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life. They strengthen bonds with family members and friends… [and] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

As a Whole

These purposes are not necessarily distinct steps and may happen in any order, but they are intertwined. The funeral experience as a whole is like a rite of passage. We emerge transformed, with a new identity, a new relationship with our lost loved one, and a new relationship with our community.

Unfortunately, not all funerals are successful in helping us heal. This is because we have lost part of our understanding of why funerals matter and how to create a meaningful and healing funeral ceremony that will give us a good start on the healing process. But it’s not too late to learn. For more information on funerals, their purpose, and how to create a personalized, meaningful, and healing ceremony, check out the articles below:

Do Funerals Still Matter?

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

6 Reasons to Write Your Will Now

By Estate Planning

Perhaps unconsciously, we often think we have to own a lot of stuff or at least be in our 5th decade to write a will. This simply isn’t the case. In fact, the sooner you write a will, the better. A will is a legal document that offers certain protections. Without one, if something were to happen to you, the people you care about and the possessions or assets you’ve acquired might not be taken care of the way you would want them to be.

Rather than wait for the unexpected to happen, take charge. Decide how you want to provide for the people you love and distribute the things you care about. Not quite convinced? Let’s go over 6 key reasons why you shouldn’t wait another day to write your will.

1. Because you love your children

Have you thought about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you (and/or your spouse)? A legal will allows you to designate a specific guardian for your children, which ensures that the people you want raising your child will be able to do so. Without a designated guardian, the state decides who will raise your children. They may not choose the people you would have chosen. Additionally, if you want to leave possessions or property to your children, you protect their financial security by outlining your wishes in the will.

2. Because you should decide what happens to your worldly goods

Throughout our lives, we make cherished memories, we gather precious mementos, and if we’re able, we make our bank accounts grow. Whether it’s ensuring that a trust fund is created for a child or that your mother’s favorite set of dishes goes to your oldest daughter, a will gives you the ability to decide what happens to your worldly possessions. Without a will, your state laws will determine how your goods and assets are distributed, and those laws may not be in accordance with your wishes. Creating a will ensures that your wishes are known and followed.

3. Because you want to eliminate arguments

In many families, there’s often someone who creates strife or dissension amongst the group, either intentionally or unintentionally. To lessen the possibility of arguments or disputes, it’s best to clearly outline what you want done with your estate (e.g. home, car, funds, possessions, care of dependents, etc.). If no one knows your wishes, there’s room for dispute. While you may never be a super star (not many of us are), we only have to look at the cases of Prince, Aretha Franklin, or Sonny Bono to see just how complicated things can become without a will.

4. Because you are part of a blended family

Many blended families enjoy loving relationships, but not all. If you have parented children who are not your legal heirs, you may wish to add them into your will. If you have legal heirs that you do not wish to leave assets to, you may need to exclude them from your will. Either way, blended families can introduce a few challenges, so it’s better to write a legal will so that everyone is clear about your wishes.

5. Because you want to keep things simple for your family

So many things in life become needlessly complicated. The care of your dependents and distribution of your assets doesn’t have to be one of them. To keep things simple for those you love, put things in writing. With a will, your family can just get things taken care of. Without a will, state laws come into play and matters can become complicated very quickly. Keep things simple for everyone by making your wishes known.

6. Because our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know one thing. None of us are promised tomorrow. By writing your will now, you can protect your family and ensure they are taken care of when you’re gone. If you are someone without a spouse or children at this time, think about whom you would want to benefit. Perhaps you’d give to friends, other family members, or a charity. No matter what you want, writing a will now can make a big difference in the lives of others.

To get started, it’s always best to speak with an estate attorney, especially if you have a large number of assets. However, if you can’t afford the services of an attorney, there are will writing services online. However, by doing it yourself, you run the risk of not addressing certain issues. This may unintentionally create problems for your family. If possible, ask a lawyer to review any document you draw up.

In addition to writing a will, it’s always good to consider whether now is the right time to put together advance care directives, powers of attorney, and advance funeral plans. In addition to a will, these documents create a net of safety and peace of mind for your loved ones.

No matter your age – recent college grad or grandparent – it’s never too early to write a will and ensure that your people and possessions are taken care of your way.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Service

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Funeral and memorial services are about remembering and cherishing a loved one’s memory and honoring their life. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, author, and counselor, often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ceremony.” Meaningful ceremonies are reflective of the life that has been lived. They spark memories, help honor a legacy, and bring to mind the good times that were shared. Using photos is one important way we can personalize a funeral and reflect on a life well-lived.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true when you are sharing photos of a loved one’s life. Let’s talk about how you can use photos to create a tribute that will bring meaning, hope, peace, and comfort to those who are hurting.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Physical Service

Photos are unique to a person, a time, a place, a memory. That’s why they are a perfect way to personalize a funeral or memorial service. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Add Photos to the Order of Service

For most funeral or memorial services, you will receive an “Order of Service” program. This pamphlet usually outlines the order of events that will occur at the service, including speakers, special songs, opportunities to share memories, etc. The Order of Service is a good place to incorporate photos. You can be as creative as you’d like, including your favorite photos or simply ones that capture your loved one’s personality.

2. Make a Collage or Timeline

A photo collage or timeline allows you to tell your loved one’s life story. The big moments, the small ones, the ones that mean the most to you and your family. You can highlight weddings, births, vacations, milestones, hobbies, childhood photos, and so much more. Then, as people view the collage or timeline at the service, conversations will spark. Memories will become fresh. Hearts will be comforted.

3. Put Together a Memorial Photo Album

Sometimes there’s something special about a tangible object. Just like some people prefer physical books over electronic books, there are those who prefer the sturdy presence of a photo album to any amount of digital storage. If you are one of these people, you might consider putting together a memorial photo album or bringing your old family photo albums to the gathering or visitation. Holding the book and flipping through the pages often evokes a strong feeling of connection. By allowing friends, family, and guests to look through the album, you create an opportunity to remember special times and learn new things about the one you love.

4. Create a Memory Board

Similar to a photo collage, a memory board intentionally leaves space open for family, friends, and other guests to add photos of their own or to write personalized messages on the board. By inviting people to participate, you do two things. First, you allow others to mourn; that is, put their grief into action. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside, and mourning is when you express that grief outside of yourself. Mourning is grief inside out. [It] is showing and doing.” Secondly, by inviting others to add their own thoughts and memories, you create a lovely keepsake that gives a full, vibrant picture of your loved one’s life.

5. Use Photos to Personalize the Gathering/Reception

Many families decide to include a gathering or reception following the funeral or memorial service. Doing this allows family, friends, and others an opportunity to share memories and offer support to one another. The gathering/reception is also a great time to add personal touches to the funeral experience. You might string a clothesline in one area of the room and invite friends and family to a bring a photo to hang. Or, you could use photos to decorate the tables – as centerpieces or even as a table runner. Alternatively, if you are having an outdoor event, you could decorate a tree with photos of your loved one and add mason jars with candles to add softness to the display.

6. Make a Tribute Video

With a tribute video, you can use photos, audio clips, video clips, favorite quotes, and so much more to create a truly personal account of your loved one’s life. A tribute video adds a meaningful element to the service, allows guests to reflect on their memories, comforts family and friends, evokes laughter and tears, and can be a special keepsake that can be watched for years to come.

7. Invite Mourners to Bring a Favorite Photo

Another option you might consider is inviting mourners to bring a favorite photo of your loved one. You could ask people to write a favorite memory on the back and leave the photo with the family as an encouragement. Alternatively, you could create a collective collage. By requesting that everyone bring a 4×6 photo, you can create pre-made spaces where people can add their photos to the collage. Or, you could simply ask mourners to look at the photo and remember your loved one as the eulogy is spoken. A visual reminder – especially one that means something – will help each person connect with their own feelings and begin the grief journey on the right foot.

8. Make a Memory Wreath

Another way to use photos in a unique way is to create a memory wreath. This special wreath will not only serve as a special focal point for any gathering or reception, it can also be re-used in your home afterward. Photos are a great way to remember our loved ones. They connect us to the past; they remind us of the stories of our lives. Sometimes, they even express emotions better than words.

9. Ask Someone to Take Photos at the Funeral

While it may sound odd, you might consider asking someone to take photos at the funeral or memorial. Not necessarily of your loved one – but of the events and the people who have gathered. Photography is about capturing the important moments in life, and the passing of a loved one is significant. Photos taken at any point of the service (funeral, reception, graveside, etc.) will all show a variety of emotions – sadness at the loss, joy at seeing living loved ones, happiness at sharing cherished memories. Who knows, you may find that one of these photos becomes a cherished favorite.

10. Print Remembrance Tokens

Finally, for many of us, specific items have great value and significance to our memory. “I bought this painting when we went to France,” or “This scarf always reminds me of my grandmother.” Photos can do the same. Consider printing out some of your favorite photos and giving them to guests as a remembrance token. You might add a quote, scripture verse, or poem on the back. As each person takes a photo, they have a physical reminder of your loved one, something they can hold onto and contemplate on as they walk through their grief journey.

Estate Planning for the Blended Family

By Estate Planning, Explore Options, Precare

In today’s world, it’s more and more common to be part of a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

For those who have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care should something happen to you?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. When you make your estate plans, do you need to include a former spouse in addition to a current spouse?
  6. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  7. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

It’s never too early to put together an estate plan. After all, our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed. So, no matter your age, review these 5 important estate planning documents and decide if any of them are right for you in your current season of life.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

For some families, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-relationship try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some of the estate planning challenges and are familiar with the five most important estate planning documents, start talking with the people closest to you about how to set things in place so that no matter what tomorrow brings, you’re prepared!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.