So, here’s a timely “What if?” question. What if your family doesn’t want to carry out your funeral plans?
Suppose you want something really special for your send off, but aren’t sure your heirs will want to carry out your wishes. Say, for example, you want a Viking funeral, where the body is put on a wooden boat that is set ablaze and sent out to sea. How can you make sure your wishes will be carried out?
There are several ways to insure your funeral plans are carried out, according to Steve Hartnett, Associate Director of Education for the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
First, you can put your wishes in your will and name the executor who is responsible for carrying out those wishes. The drawback here is that the will is not read until after the funeral. Unless the executor knows about those special funeral wishes and is involved with the funeral planning, your special send-off may not happen.
Second, you can pre-pay a funeral plan. Hartnett suggests funding a funeral trust, essentially a paid-up insurance policy that would cover the cost of all the arrangements. The trust can be designated to pay a funeral home, but it does not lock in the specific arrangements. There is also the option of pre-planning with a reputable funeral home and pre-paying for specific arrangements, locking in the costs and services. You then let the family know that these arrangements have already been made and paid for.
Third, you can disinherit anyone who objects to your plans, and let your inheritors know this before you die. This strategy is known as an in terrorem (Latin for “to instill terror”) or no contest clause in the will. However, this strategy may not be valid in all states.
Or, you can take the opposite approach, using a carrot instead of a stick. You can promise to richly reward the individual who carries out your Viking funeral wishes.
Whatever approach is used, it helps to have a personal letter that you keep at home with your important documents that spells out what you want to have happen and ask the family to abide by your wishes.
Hartnett suggests, “Spell out ‘This is what I want to have happen, it’s something I really want to do.’ That way the family knows that you actually thought about it, it’s not just something listed in the trust or the will. It’s something that you really mean and it’s a personal thing. People tend not to want to go against someone’s true last wishes.”