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Writing Your Will: How to Avoid Common Pitfalls

By Planning Tools, Precare

This story is all too common. A parent dies without a legal will, and the adult children must face not only their grief, but the headache of moving the estate through probate court.

That is why creating a legal will is one of the most vital areas of estate planning. A legal will ensures that your property and possessions will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. When someone dies without a legal will, that person is said to have died “intestate,” and the person’s property and assets will be subject to distribution by the state of residence.

Intestacy

Intestacy can be the cause of unpleasant arguments among family members. If your final wishes for your property aren’t signed, witnessed, and documented while you are in a clear state of mind, then your loved ones will be left with the headache of trying to interpret your wishes in a way that doesn’t cause significant conflict.

Administrator of the Estate

When someone dies intestate, a member of the family is usually appointed as the administrator of the estate. But there is no way to determine the true wishes of the one who has passed. If the deceased did not appoint an executor of the will, a probate court will often appoint this administrator.

Developing a Plan

The issue of intestacy is further complicated by the fact that states have different laws for going about the process.  To avoid all the legal red tape, plan ahead by writing a will that clearly delineates your wishes and that is legally valid. Requirements for a will’s legality vary from state to state, so you may have to do some research on specific requirements in your state. However, here are some general guidelines that you can follow to write a will that is legally acceptable and that best conveys your wishes:

  • Don’t wait: To ensure its legality, your will must be signed when you are of sound mind. Many people think that they can wait until they are on their deathbed to write the will, but if your state of health calls into question your mental clarity, then your will could be declared invalid. To avoid this potential setback, construct a legally valid will ahead of time.
  • Select your witnesses: Your will should be written in the presence of witnesses. At least two witnesses will need to sign it, but some states will not accept less than three. Make sure that the witnesses are disinterested parties, people who are not beneficiaries and have no stake in the proceedings.
  • Choose an executor: Be sure to assign an executor of the will to fulfill the duty of settling the estate. This is the person who you will trust to represent your wishes after your death. Often, a spouse or close friend is appointed as an executor. Remember, in the absence of an executor, an administrator of the estate will have to be chosen, and there is no way to guarantee that the person selected will know how to follow your wishes.
  • Provide for dependents: If you are responsible for the care of minors, it is important that you outline your wishes for their continued care, and that you assign a guardian that you trust to take on this role.
  • Communicate clearly: Make sure that your thoughts are well-organized. Identify your heirs and give instructions that are free of ambiguity. Read back over the material and make sure that there is an unmistakable connection between person and property, gift and recipient.
  • Update: Return to your will every few years to make sure that your current wishes are represented. Things change. If a decade has passed and you haven’t looked at your will, there’s a good chance that it’s offering an inaccurate picture of your current wishes. Pull it out every few years, review it carefully, and make any necessary edits.

State Law Requirements

While these general principles will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of will-writing, it is essential that you also educate yourself on your specific state’s laws for creating a will. An attorney can help with this, or you can take advantage of an online will creation service to make sure that your will is written within the parameters of state law.

Be Proactive

It’s never too early to start thinking ahead. By creating a clearly worded and legally sound will, you can relieve your family of unnecessary stress and make sure that your wishes will be carried out. Ensuring that your estate and your belongings are distributed according to your preferences will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Precare

Cremation is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, with just over 50% of those who died in 2016 selecting cremation for their final disposition. However, many families who choose cremation don’t realize that they can still have a healing and meaningful funeral experience, even if they choose this form of disposition. According to respected grief experts, the funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. And while cremation is a popular option for final disposition, it shouldn’t prevent individuals and families from the benefits of having a healing and meaningful funeral ritual.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service; only 11.8 percent associate it with a funeral that includes a viewing or visitation; and more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware that you can have a funeral/visitation/viewing with the body before cremation takes place. So, what do these statistics tell us? That when families choose cremation, they are likely missing out on the opportunity to memorialize and commemorate the life of a loved one.

That said, let’s review the basic service options for honoring a loved one who has chosen cremation.

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

First of all, choosing cremation does not prevent a family from having a traditional service with the body present. The family may choose to have a private family viewing or public visitation. They may even hold a full funeral service with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. A rental casket looks like a regular casket on the outside. The difference is that a rental casket holds a cremation container insert on the inside. After the service, the funeral home staff removes the cremation container and transports it to the crematorium. For family members, the main benefit of holding a service or viewing with the body present is having an opportunity to emotionally process the reality of the death, which is very important to the grief journey. In fact, one of the best ways to acknowledge that someone is no longer with us is to physically see them and say our goodbyes. With that said, for some it may not be possible to view the body. In that case, you can still say your goodbyes and acknowledge the reality of the loss in your own way.

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

A second option is to plan a memorial service to take place after cremation has already occurred. Like a traditional service, you can create a personalized event complete with all the elements of a meaningful service, tailored to honor the life of your loved one. The main difference is that at a memorial service the body will not be present. However, you can place an urn in a place of honor during the service. By planning a memorial service, you still offer mourners an opportunity to come together. They can offer support to each other and remember the life of someone loved. It’s important to honor a loved one’s life and show them the proper respect. Without a ceremony or service, this need may go unaddressed. And even if your loved one didn’t want to “make a fuss,” gathering together, supporting one another, and honoring life is a necessary part of the grief journey. Before you skip the memorial service, consider the effect on those who mourn if they don’t have the opportunity to come together to grieve.

3. Direct Cremation

Finally, a third option is direct cremation. Often, families choose this option for one of three reasons. First, the one who has died didn’t want a “fuss” made over them after their death. Second, they were financially unable to select a different option. Or, third, they didn’t know they had other options. If your loved one chooses direct cremation and you agree with their choice, honor their wishes when the time comes. However, if your loved one sets their mind on direct cremation and you don’t agree with their choice, sit down with them. Talk about why you would like a meaningful service to accompany their cremation wishes.

As you make your end-of-life plans, carefully consider what is best for your loved ones and friends, what they will need as they mourn your loss. Each of these three options may be appropriate in different circumstances and situations. We all have different expectations for what a funeral service will entail and what we want it to look like. No matter which option you choose – cremation with traditional service, viewing, or visitation; cremation with memorial service; direct cremation; or a combination of options – find a way to balance your family’s needs with your own personal wishes.

Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Precare

Losing a loved one creates a painful hole in our hearts that we often don’t know how to fill. However, through the process of grief and mourning, we can come to grips with the loss we have suffered. At a funeral service, symbolic actions give mourners the opportunity to put their grief into action. Oftentimes, we don’t know what to do with our grief, so at times like these, we turn to the comfort of tradition and ritual. In this case, the ritual of a funeral. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author, and educator, “Funerals are made up of a number of ritualistic physical actions, all of which give mourners a way to literally move through the funeral process (and thus through this difficult time of grief).”

Symbolic actions include walking through a receiving line at the visitation, kneeling and taking communion during the service, participating as a pallbearer, soloist, or reader, or taking part in the funeral procession to the final resting place.

In addition to these time-honored symbolic actions, the release ceremony has increased in popularity. Because funeral homes today work closely with families to create personalized, healing, and meaningful funerals, it is even easier to incorporate personal touches to funerals. These personalized elements leave family and friends feeling that their loved one was truly remembered and honored.

Many types of release ceremonies are possible. Below are the most common types:

Balloon Release

As part of a meaningful celebration of life, family and friends may wish to gather for a special time of remembrance with a balloon release. Releasing balloons helps us say goodbye, allowing us to experience greater healing as we “release” our emotions. To make it more personal, write messages of hope and love on the balloons before releasing them.

“There should be no fear of death, for the death of the body is but a gentle passing to a much freer life.” – Helen Greaves

Balloons are available in a wide range of colors, from elegant white to multicolored. Balloons should be biodegradable and safe for the environment.

Dove Release

Doves have always been a symbol of peace and hope. Many families choose to release doves at the graveside service, offering family and friends an image of the loved one’s spirit ascending to heaven. White doves remind us of the purity of the departed soul and the freedom of the spirit as our loved one returns home.

Death is nothing else but going home to God, where the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.” – Mother Teresa

During the service, a poem or scripture is read and a number of doves, representing angels, are released. Next, a selected relative releases a single white dove, which joins the angels and is escorted to heaven.

Butterfly Release

Releasing butterflies is a beautiful expression of the transformation of the soul as we go from one life to the next. When a humble caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, other earth-bound caterpillars no longer recognize it. In the same way, though we may no longer see our loved one, their spirit lives on.

“A caterpillar dies and a butterfly is born; nevertheless, the two are one.” – Anonymous

Butterflies can be released from a single decorative box at an opportune time during an outdoor service. As an alternative, it is possible to arrange for each individual person to release a single butterfly from an origami box.

Lantern Release

A lantern release is a loving expression of release and hope. In the Eastern tradition, mourners light and release paper lanterns into the sky, believing that the lantern will guide their loved one’s spirit to final rest. Alternatively, floating lanterns can be released in remembrance of a loved one. By writing special notes on them, mourners can send messages of love with their loved one’s spirit.

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lanterns are available in a variety of colors. You could select your loved one’s favorite color. Alternatively, you can make many colors available and ask guests to select one that is significant to them. Either way, the act will be meaningful to all who participate.

If you are preplanning your own funeral or are planning a funeral for a loved one and would like to incorporate a release ceremony, speak to your funeral director about your options. Some states may not allow certain types of releases. Your funeral professional will know how to proceed so that you can honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personalized, healing, and meaningful for all.