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Prepare yourself for death and taxes

Flowers make a funeral less gloomy
Flowers make a funeral less gloomy
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Among the many things most people don’t want to think about is the very real fact of death. That old saying about nothing being certain but death and taxes affects everyone. If you have been hospitalized yourself recently, someone may have asked you about your health care directive, DNR orders or living will. If you are of a certain age, have any assets at all, have close family members or none at all, you need these things. It will make your own final days easier on everyone, even you, and mean your heirs receive what you want to give them with fewer taxes or other fees.

In addition to sorrow and pain, death brings a lot of responsibilities and critical decisions to be made by survivors. San Francisco author and attorney Scott Taylor Smith found this out the hard way when his mother died, and he wrote “When Someone Dies” to help others navigate the complicated legal issues that follow the death of loved one.

Here are some things Smith thinks you should know:

• If you are thinking of organ donation, the decision needs to be made immediately. If siblings or other close family members are not around, someone needs to make that decision in the first few hours after death.
• Hospitals want the body moved as quickly as possible. You will need a licensed mortuary to move the body from the hospital or law enforcement if the person dies somewhere else.
• If the remains are to be shipped somewhere, arrange for the shipping. Many countries have specific rules for this and you want to get it right the first time. Be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for this.
• Once you choose a funeral home, they need to know if you are choosing a burial, cremation, open or closed casket etc. and they need to know as soon as possible. They will also want to know who is responsible for paying their bill.
• If you tell the bank the right way, you can close accounts, empty the safe deposit box and use assets to pay for the funeral. If you do it the wrong way, the bank may freeze the assets for months.
• You have to write the obituary and pay the newspaper to print it.
• Start contacting family and friends as soon as you can.
• Determine who is in charge after the death. If no specific executor has been named, you may have to petition the probate court to have one named.
• Remember to thank the end of life caregivers.

Smith also suggests you consider a memorial service in addition to or instead of a public funeral. He says that memorial services are a bit more relaxed than a funeral with friends and family invited to speak about the person’s life and reminiscences, and the mood is usually less formal. Survivors have more time to plan the event and shape it in a way they think the deceased would have preferred. Sometimes the deceased had planned such an event, choosing the slide show or music or the food he or she wants served. Check her or his computer for such information. If mourners from far away want to attend, the services can be planned weeks or months away so they can make plans to be there.

Smith says that many people benefit from grief counseling or a support group at this time. If you have trouble coping with your loss, find you can’t sleep or can’t return to your everyday life, consider professional counseling.

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