Legal Issues when someone has Dementia – Pre-Planning a Funeral Ceremony

This week’s blog continues the discussion of Legal Issues when someone has Dementia.  The introductory installment (April 30, 2015) put forth the issue of “Who can speak for someone with dementia?”  The May 14, 2015 installment discussed the situation where the person with dementia has Advance Directives in place.  The May 21, 2015 installment discussed the legal issues in determining whether a dementia sufferer can choose to have new Advance Directives prepared.  The May 30, 2015 installment discussed options in preparing a Health Care Power of Attorney.  The June 4, 2015 installment discussed how to decide whether to prepare a Living Will.  The June 11, 2015 installment discussed some of the basic issues in preparing a General Power of Attorney.  The June 18, 2015 installment discussed the importance of making the General Power of Attorney “durable.”  The June 25, 2015 installment discussed the importance of NOT making the General Power of Attorney “springing.”  The July 2, 2015 installment discussed revoking prior Powers of Attorney.  The July 9, 2015 installment discussed Do Not Resuscitate orders.  The July 16, 2015 installment discussed the Right of Disposition designation.  The July 23, 2015 installment discussed the Will (or Last Will and Testament.)  The July 31, 2015 installment discussed beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, IRAs, annuities, etc.  The August 6, 2015 installment discussed whether to pre-plan a funeral.  The August 14, 2015 installment discussed choosing a final resting place.  Today’s installment will discuss pre-planning a funeral ceremony.

Today’s installment continues the discussion of issues to manage when someone finds out that he or she has a disease that causes dementia.  These issues should be managed before the dementia gets worse, before the disease takes away the person’s ability to make decisions.  Continuing the current topic of pre-planning a funeral, this week’s discussion will focus on the steps to take when planning the funeral ceremony itself.

The plan for the funeral should be written down.  The person choosing his or her own funeral arrangements won’t be available to provide clarification.  (In addition, in our ongoing discussion of someone with dementia, the person making the funeral arrangements may not be able to remember them very long after making them.)  It can be written down anywhere on anything, as long as it can be FOUND when needed.  The plan should also include projected costs so that pre-funding can be considered as well.  (The next installment will discuss payment options.)

The first part of the written funeral plan is to find a pre-need funeral checklist or shopping list.  There are pre-need checklists online.  (You can find many of them through a search engine.)  Funeral homes (and funeral providers that don’t have a funeral home) have pre-need checklists available as well.  Pre-need checklists are often a sales tool for funeral services, so they focus on the services offered by funeral homes.

Unless the person trying to pre-plan the funeral can find a satisfactory checklist online, the person should identify a funeral home that he or she would like to use.  The choice of funeral home at this point isn’t necessarily final for the eventual funeral services.  The family can choose a different funeral home, if they wish, when the person eventually passes away.  When that funeral home has been identified, the person should visit (if possible) and get a pre-need checklist.

The person planning the funeral can use the pre-need checklist for a large portion of the planning necessary for the funeral.  If the pre-need checklist came from a funeral home, it will almost certainly make available all of the services that the funeral home offers.  The person planning the funeral can choose or refuse most of those services,  but if the funeral home offers a service, the pre-need checklist will probably include it among the choices.

Depending on the final resting place chosen (discussed in the August 14, 2015 installment,) certain services may be required.  These potentially mandatory services include enbalming and a burial vault.  (The vault may or may not appear on the pre-need checklist and may depend on whether the funeral home has a long-standing relationship with one particular or a few particular cemeteries.)

One of the items almost certain to be on the pre-need checklist is a choice of casket.  A funeral home will have many models available (in full-size versions, child-size versions, or photographs) from which to choose.  When choosing a casket, the model name will usually be written on the checklist  I suggest that a photograph be taken of the inside and the outside of the casket as well.  The model chosen may no longer be in production at the time of death.  The photographs will help identify a substitute that is close the the original choice.  (I assume that caskets go out of production because a less expensive material or manufacturing process was devised.  A casket isn’t like a car which people replace every three or four years.  Styles don’t seem to have changed much over the years either.  Nonetheless, casket models do go out of production, so photographs are a good addition to the pre-need checklist.)

The clothing chosen for the deceased is usually listed on the pre-need checklist.  In addition, the list also usually includes places to list readings and songs that the person would like.  If the pre-need checklist does not include these, the written plan should include them.

In addition to the burial vault and enbalming mentioned above, a few other items may or may not be included on the pre-need checklist.  (If the funeral home doesn’t make money from a particular funeral-related service, the funeral home does not have an incentive to include that service on the checklist.)

For example, flower arrangements are usually purchased from a florist.  If floral arrangements aren’t listed on the pre-need checklist, the planner should visit a florist and choose what he or she wants.  (Flowers are a staple of funerals, so most pre-need checklists include them.  Some lists don’t, though.)

Pre-need checklists don’t always include a minister as an available choice.  (This is rare, but it does happen sometimes.)  If the funeral needs a particular minister or a minister of a particular denomination, the plan should make sure to include that choice.  (If a particular minister is desired, the plan should include a back-up.  That one particular minister may not be available.)

Similarly, the pre-need checklist may or may not ask about a place of worship.  If there is a particular place where the funeral should be held, that place should be listed on the funeral plan.  If a memorial service is preferred over a funeral, that choice should be made clear on the plan.  (Obviously, a place of worship and a choice of minister often go hand-in-hand, but not always.)

If there will be a burial or placement into a mausoleum, there will probably be a charge for opening and closing the grave.  Unless the funeral home is affiliated with a particular cemetery, this item is unlikely to be included on the pre-need checklist.  To avoid a last-minute surprise, this cost should be obtained from the cemetery and included on the plan.

The repast (the meal after the funeral and sometimes called the funeral breakfast) is often left off the pre-need checklist.  This can be a big cost if catered or can be no cost at all if provided by church members or friends.  The planner should think about the meal plans and include the necessary description (and likely cost, if any) in the funeral plan.

Travel needs should also be considered.  If the deceased person will need to be transported for burial (most often back to a family home,) the arrangements should be described in the plan and cost projections included.  If loved ones will need to travel to the funeral, the plan should include how those loved ones will travel and how much that travel will cost.

Finally, the plan should include a list of people who must be told of the person’s death.  If possible, the plan should include contact information for those people.

Similarly, the plan should include a draft death notice.  The person planning his or her own funeral should get a chance to have the death notice say what he or she wishes.

Planning a funeral can be traumatic, or it can be cathartic.  Either way, a person facing dementia should get a chance to plan the funeral he or she wants before that chance is taken away by the dementia.

With dementia already affecting the person and, because of the dementia, long term care likely in the future, planning a funeral is more important and more pressing.  If the costs of long term care force the person to seek Medicaid coverage, the Medicaid application process will almost certainly ask about funeral plans and also about pre-payment.

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