Should I include burial plans in my will?

anguished woman dressed in black kneeling at gravesite

Here are the things to consider when developing burial directives.

Whether you envision an upbeat celebration of life or a quiet memorial of just your closest family, want your final resting place to be near a long-lost loved one or your ashes scattered at a beloved place, your burial plans are unique to you. But to ensure your vision is honored, you must make your final wishes known to your loved ones before you pass on.

That includes much more than standard estate planning or advance directives. While many people don't think of burial directives, they're just as important as any end-of-life or estate directives, and leaving detailed instructions for your loved ones can be a source of comfort in their grief. While you may have appointed someone as power of attorney to manage your financial or medical concerns, your wishes for your end of life should not be left to assumption. 

Honoring the wishes of those who have passed

Simply put, burial directives ensure the deceased individual's wishes are known and can be followed. This can include many tasks that may cause concern, confusion and additional stress to family and friends during their time of loss. You may wonder how to make your wishes known; should burial plans be included in your will? The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think. 

Should burial plans be included in a will? Simply put: no. 

From a legal perspective, including your burial plans or wishes in your will may be problematic for several reasons. First of all, estates are usually settled after the funeral — meaning those close to you may not even know your wishes for burial until it's too late to fulfill them. 

Secondly, under the law, an individual's body is not considered property and, therefore, cannot be under the estate's control. That means your executor might not be able to fulfill your burial plan. 

So what is the best way to make your burial plan known? You have several options:

  • Discuss your wishes with those closest to you, particularly those who will make decisions on your funeral and burial. 
  • Develop a document that specifies your end-of-life wishes. This can be separate from your will and can detail your preferred burial plan. This might include arrangements you would like to make for your burial, your plot marker, whether you would like to be cremated, and where you want your final resting place to be. Having a witness as you sign and date your document and then giving copies to your attorney, your loved ones and your executor can increase the likelihood that someone will carry out your wishes. It is important to note, however, that a document like this is typically not legally binding. 
  • Keep in mind that prepaid funerals can also become a burden in different ways. For example, if you later decide you want different arrangements, you may not be eligible for a refund and may not be able to modify your plan. In addition, if the funeral home closes, you may not receive your money back. 
Want to develop an estate plan, will or final arrangements document? 

When it's time to develop your last will and testament, create an estate plan or specify your final wishes, having a trusted attorney on your side is essential. Our legal team serves the greater La Crosse, Wisconsin, region and is adept at handling the complexities of estate planning. Contact us to get started today, so you can rest assured your final wishes will be legally binding and honored. 

Anthony Gingrasso, La Crosse Estate Planning AttorneyBy Tony Gingrasso, La Crosse estate planning attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For help with estate planning and burial planning, call him at 608-784-5678.

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