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How to Completely Outline Your Final Wishes

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You are responsible. If things are not done as you had wished when you pass away, it will be your fault. If money is over-spent or spent in the wrong way, it could result in family feuds or animosity that could last for years. You have the power right now to not only prevent mistakes but also to lower your total costs—in advance.

If you don’t have much together yet, get a notebook such as a composition book and start making notes for your own use. Your final wishes will be more formal documents you give to your family. They won’t need to interpret your notes. To begin the FINAL DOCUMENT, prepare a first draft of my worksheet Final Wishes Summary. Everything of vital importance should be summarized onto one sheet of paper. You will also have other important supporting documents.

I have represented and funded for many funeral homes since 1992. In every case, we used some form of "Memorial Guide," "Record Guide," or other planning guide to put your final wishes and preferences all into one place. A very good one that I recommend is Met Life's Funeral Planning Guide (click here to download PDF).

It is very thorough. They offer this when they promote their final expense and group insurance. Over the years, however, I have found it is additionally beneficially to have a one page summarization (which is not intended to replace a more comprehensive document). The reason for the one page summary is to make it easier for your family to look at one piece of paper with the most important information first. It is also easier in most cases for you to think about the most important information first and then to elaborate later. I help you do this with a blank worksheet you can start filling out. If I meet with you, I will take a copy and then put it into printed, easier-to-read form. In addition, I will put a photo of your casket selection on the same page, so when the time comes no one is relying on a written description of what you wanted. Rather, they will see clearly what casket you preferred.

Print out my worksheet “COST CHECKLIST” from this Web site: This will help you determine with more accuracy how much money your family would still need to come up with, and also how you can ensure enough funds are set aside for everything. You can mark what you’ve already taken care of, maybe with the original cost or total cost after funding. You can prepare a separate Cost Checklist for every funeral home you investigate or survey, or you can keep it to one sheet if you’re fairly sure who it is you want to do business with.

There are some other important reasons for having a final wishes summary on one sheet of paper. The most important is to prevent your family from making mistakes, especially costly mistakes. What types of mistakes can happen? They can overspend. This can occur quickly and easily if they choose the wrong funeral home.

The second worksheet, Plan Worksheet, which is the worksheet I use with my clients on every appointment, can be used to put together scenarios for funding what is next—based on your budget, resources, and timetable. Where you have something already covered, you can write “covered” or “not included.” If, for example, after using the Cost Checklist, you are thinking about a funeral service, casket, and burial vault as your first or next step, just fill in the amounts from either the funeral home’s General Price List (preferably from their “package offerings”) or from figures you get on the phone. For example, $2,995 for a church or graveside service (casket extra), $1,595 for a casket, and $1,800 for a burial vault (concrete box) setting fee included. This comes to a total of $6,390. From that point, you can consider your current funding options.

Once you understand basically how to use these two forms, you are ready to conduct a survey of funeral homes.

It is a typical mistake for your family to assume they should be arranging your funeral with the same company where your burial plots are if there is a funeral home at that location also. Examples are Wasatch Lawn, Valley View Memorial Park, Larkin Sunset Gardens, Redwood Memorial, Lake Hills Memorial, Mountain View Memorial and Lakeview Memorial. These are all combined cemetery/mortuary facilities. But they may be way out of your budget for funeral arrangements. If you don't instruct your family with the words, "At time of need contact: The Correct Funeral Home," they will automatically assume you want to use the funeral home where your plots are.

The first bits of information under VITAL STATISTICS are for your death certificate. Your survivors may not know or remember your marriage date, etc. Fill this section out first. Social Security number is optional, but it is required at the time of death. You'll also need it to file for the $255 Social Security death benefit.

MILITARY RECORD is very important if you are a veteran, because you are entitled to certain benefits if you served with an honorable discharge. One item of considerable expense which veterans get for free is a headstone/marker for your grave, which today for a single person averages around $1,500 to $2,000. See Update on Veteran's Benefits.

Decide whether you want a funeral service with a viewing. Remember that with providers such as Premier Funeral Services, and numerous others throughout Utah, you pay much less for having a church service or a graveside service instead of at a mortuary's chapel. Remember that most of the high-profile funeral homes don't give you a discount for using your church, but they will give a small discount for a graveside service. If you decide to use Premier Funeral Services (which could later be changed), be sure to fill that in under "At time of need contact." The details of the funeral service with respect to music, flowers, etc. can be added later, but be sure to indicate who would be in charge of the funeral, such as oldest child, bishop, etc.

Selecting the casket style, make, and even model is relatively easy. You can draw the line on cost when you fill in this section. You can either go to my caskets page or go to Walmart or Costco's Web sites. You will find the quality you are looking for at the best prices. Don't visit a funeral home's showroom to shop for a casket. You will be wasting your time.

The INSURANCE FUNDING section is where the money to pay for it will come from. If you are freezing costs with me, this would be National Guardian Life Funeral Expense Trust. We would meet to work out the face amount and payment terms.

Under INTERMENT REQUESTS, indicate whether and where you have burial plots and if a burial is your preference. If you plan to be cremated and not buried, it would be best not to indicate where you have burial plots. Again, a mistake could be made costing more money if your survivors thought burial was part of the plan. In addition, you would not want them to overspend on the cremation either. Indicate also whether a vault is already paid for if you're having a burial, as well as grave marker. A grave marker is the last (optional) thing you need, so you can leave this blank for now.

And that's it. The more detailed information can be added later on another document. I have NGL's Record Guide, which is a folder with many other details you can outline. Once the Final Wishes Summary is done, make copies and distribute to your family right away. You're that much closer to peace of mind.

After the one-page Final Wishes Summary is done, you can elaborate with more details on separate sheets:

To add more details, click Each Page to Enlarge and Print:

How to Prepare Your Own Will in Utah For Less Than $50

You can prepare your own will for under $50.00 in the State of Utah--without a lawyer. In some cases, you may want to consult a lawyer if your situation is complicated. Otherwise, you need not pay much money to do your will all by yourself.

Go to the following Web sites to find a will form to match your situation:

Rocket Lawyer

Total Legal

Utah's Requirements for a Will

Holographic Wills

Holographic wills are written totally in your own handwriting and cannot be witnessed. They must be signed and dated and cannot contain any other marks except your writing. It is usually not the formal will you leave, but it is more often used to decide the details of who gets smaller items of value or other personal property you may own. But it could be accepted as your only will if you have done nothing else. Otherwise, with no written will of any kind, you have died "intestate," i.e., without a valid will. But a holographic will is better than nothing. It can be replaced later by another typewritten will with witnesses, or it can be added upon with another will-so long as the separate wills do not contradict each other in any way.

Here's an example of how a holographic will could be written:

Harry Smith Will

1. To my son James I give my remaining two cemetery plots at Wasatch View Memorial Park, which also includes two uninstalled paid for burial vaults.

2. To my daughter Janet I give my collection of mechanical and carpentry tools.

3. To my good friend Alvin, I give my Monopoly game.

4. To my brother Edward I give my 1969 Ford Mustang convertible, which Dad gave me as a birthday present in 1980.

_________________________ Harry L. Smith

Dated: January 11, 2012

Self-proving Will

A will that is notarized is a self-proving will. It must be witnessed. The signatures of the witnesses are what is being notarized, not the signature of the person making the will. If a self-proving will is taken to court, the judge will not have to make the witnesses testify that they acted as witnesses. Their notarized signatures are all that is required.

Personal Representatives

If you have minor children or an incompetent family member, your will should name a personal representative and a guardian/conservator. A personal representative is the person who does the work of seeing that the requirements of the will are carried out after you die. A guardian is the person who has legal control of a minor or incompetent person. A conservator is the person who controls the money and property of a minor or incompetent person.

Where to Keep Your Will

The originally signed copy of your will needs to be kept in a place your family can get to if you die. Some people keep their wills in a safety deposit box, but that makes it harder for your family to get to after you die. A filing cabinet or a strong box at home are better places. If you don't use an attorney, keep a second signed copy in a safe place.

If You Use an Attorney For Your Will

If you use an attorney to prepare your will, you should insist on having an originally signed copy. It is your will, not the attorney's. Be sure to tell your family where you keep your will. The lawyer may also keep an originally signed copy. If you revoke (cancel) the will, simply write the lawyer and tell him to destroy his copy.

No Funeral Home Pays Me

I make less money showing you better alternatives. This money is paid to me by the funding company I use, National Guardian Life. Funeral homes pay me nothing. No bonuses or commissions are paid to me for promoting any particular funeral service provider.