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Making a plan for your funeral

Arranging a funeral is a difficult task, but making decisions regarding your funeral in your lifetime can make things far easier for those closest to you.

Do you need to make a plan?

When making a Will, the question of funeral wishes always crops up. Many clients are very specific about what they would like to happen. Anecdotally 90+% of people know if they want to be buried or cremated – but beyond that the details get vague. Maybe a mention of a specific religion or a humanist ceremony? I’ll quite often suggest that we make reference to you keeping specific instructions with your Will – that way if you make a decision in the future, it makes reference to them? But is this sufficient? I went to see a couple in York in October and after the husband had expressed his disinterest in his funeral directions, his wife said:

Lego Funeral

“Do you know how hard it is to organise a funeral? It’s horrible and if you haven’t got a clue what that person would have wanted it’s makes it even more difficult. For you to say that you’re not interested is completely unreasonable.”

Bike Carrying a Coffin

Prior to that a member of my own family died and he’d made a funeral plan (where you pay up front and specify the details in the plan). It made things far less stressful. I don’t think there is ever a better time for someone to have made decisions for you.

Clients often say, “just get me the cheapest coffin and spend as little as possible”. That’s fine, but speaking from personal experience, when you are sat trying to choose a coffin, it can be difficult to plump for the cheapest one! It’s far better if someone has taken that decision away from you.

If we accept that it can be helpful to set out your funeral wishes, how should you do it?

In a Will or a Letter of Wishes

It’s important to start off by saying that your funeral wishes, regardless of how they are recorded, are not binding on your executors. They can change them and chose a different option. However, finances permitting, it’s unlikely that executors that you trust are going to disregard all of your wishes.

You can include your funeral wishes in your Will. I happily include as much detail as you like. My advice though, is that you only include the things that you are certain you won’t change your mind about. Whether you want to be buried or cremated and the details of a burial plot for example. Any details that you are not certain of or that may change over time, should be kept in a separate document outside of your Will. I advise that a reference should be made to this document in your Will so that your executors know to look for it. This document is called a letter of wishes.

A letter of wishes is exactly that – it explains what you’d like to happen. Once you’ve written it, you just need to sign and date it – there’s no need for a witness. There are a couple of advantages to this:

1)Unlike your Will, it is not a public document, so the details remain private – this can be particularly sensible if you want ashes spread somewhere in particular or have wishes that might not be popular with all of those people close to you.

2)It’s flexible - If you change your mind, you can alter your wises at any time. Equally, if you never get around to it, your executors can make those decisions for you. It might not be a top priority for you now, but making reference to a letter of wishes allows you to write them when you decide that you are ready.

A pre-paid funeral plan

Funeral plans are a popular option. They tend to be available to people aged over 50. They allow you to fix the price of your funeral and have the peace of mind that when you die, the payment and arrangements for your funeral is already taken care of. Your financial situation isn’t always the determining factor:

-I’ve met many wealthy clients who have funeral plans in place so that the details are taken care of – there family won’t have to wonder what they would have wanted

-I’ve met an equal number of clients who are less well off, but have made a funeral plan because it’s one less thing to think about setting money aside for and saves them from worrying that their family may not have sufficient funds available.

Plans are usually available at different price levels – usually in the region of £2,000 for a basic cremation/service to around £4,500 for something more comprehensive. Your funds are either invested in a trust or paid into an insurance policy, both of which will cover the cost of your funeral. There are a range of providers and this is where you need to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not all providers are equal, so make sure that you are satisfied with company you are using.

In the interests of full disclosure, I offer funeral plans from Golden Leaves. They don’t offer the best value plans in terms of the cash price (although it’s pretty close) – but they are an exceptionally decent company to deal with, do not engage in cold-calling and, prior to offering funeral plans, many clients that I met had funeral plans with Golden Leaves and had been impressed with the service that they had received.

Beware though, there are a lot of pushy funeral plan sellers. A plan isn’t right for everyone and you should always have time to think about whether the product is right for you. If you’re being pushed in to signing the paperwork there and then, say no.

Rising cost of funerals

What should be included in your funeral wishes?

You should include the things that are important to you. The more decisions that you make the easier it will be for your family. A friend recently commented that arranging a funeral for a someone who had left very specific wishes had made it easier for their family – they were able to focus on arranging things, rather than having to think about what they would have wanted and whether they had made the right decisions. You might want to think about:

-Whether you wish to be buried or cremated?

-If you would like a service in-line with a faith or belief

-Where you would like a service to be held?

-Who you would like to lead the service?

-If you would like any readings, poems, hymns or songs – and who you would like to deliver them?

-Where you would like to be buried or have your ashes scattered/buried or kept?

-If you would like people to make donations to a charity?

-If you have any thoughts on holding a wake and how this is to be paid for?

-Anything else that matters to you

Planning a funeral is not something that anyone wants to think about, but if you’re making a Will I’d recommend that you at least give yourself the option of making those decisions later.