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Final arrangements and estate planning

Thinking about how you want your property and other assets distributed after your death can be difficult enough. However, during the estate planning process, your attorney may ask you if you've given any consideration to your burial plan preferences.

This is as good of a time as any to think about what you want to happen to your body after your death. Do you want your organs donated? Would you want to be cremated, with your ashes scattered off the coast of Big Sur? Is there a family plot you'd like to be buried in? Do you want a small, private funeral or a big party with all of your family and friends celebrating your life?

You can include all of your wishes in your will. However, that shouldn't be the extent of making them known. Typically, your estate won't be settled until after any funeral or other proceedings. Further, your body isn't considered part of the estate. Therefore, your executor may have no authority to do anything you've designated.

It's wise to create what's often called a "final arrangements" document. This is maintained separately from your estate planning documents. You can go into as much detail as you'd like about your wishes for cremation or burial, your choice of a casket or urn, a gravestone, where you'd like to be laid to rest and more. This document should be signed and witnessed, and you should make sure that your loved ones know where it is.

You may choose to create this document as part of your estate planning tasks and include the instructions in your will as well. However, it's essential that it's accessible to the people who need to have it, even if they don't yet have access to your will.

While you're doing this, you may want to pay for your funeral or other arrangements ahead of time or set aside money where your loved ones can access it before your estate is settled. This can save them the obligation of finding a way to pay for your funeral and help ensure that you get the final sendoff you want.

It's also a good idea to talk to your loved ones about your wishes. It can be helpful to grieving family members to already know what their loved one wanted. Your estate planning attorney can provide guidance and answer your questions as you consider your final arrangements.

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