Talking about death is often considered taboo in our culture, yet death is a natural part of the cycle of life that we all face. The thought of deciding on your final arrangements may seem morbid. But if you make your wishes known now, you can feel relieved that you'll spare grieving loved ones from making difficult last-minute decisions later.
To make your final arrangements, you should decide on:
• What will happen to your remains and how you want to be remembered;
• How to notify your loved ones about your intentions;
• Who will handle your final wishes; and
• How to pay for your arrangements.
If you haven't named someone to have custody and control over your remains, by Maine law, the next of kin will receive it in the following order:
1. Your spouse or domestic partner
2. An adult son or daughter
3. A parent
4. An adult brother or sister
5. An adult grandchild
6. An adult niece or nephew who is the child of a brother or sister
7. A maternal grandparent
8. A paternal grandparent
9. An adult aunt or uncle
10. An adult first cousin
11. Any other adult relative in descending order of blood relationship
12. For veterans without a known living spouse or adult relative, the Adjutant General or the Adjutant General's designee
If your designee refuses to make a decision, the responsibility will go to the next of kin. If two or more people have the same relationship to the deceased, the issue may have to go to a probate court.
Six Final Disposition Options Available in Maine
Many options exist for disposition of your remains. Most people know about cremation or traditional burial, but there are others. Some people base their decisions on family tradition, while others align them with their faith or personal philosophies, including the effect they could have on the environment. Common disposition methods include:
• Organ or tissue donation – Maine drivers and state I.D. holders can declare their status on their licenses or cards; a funeral and cremation or burial may take place later
• Whole-body donation, such as to a medical school for training or research
• Cremation – burning the body to ashes and burying them, spreading them, or keeping them in an urn
• Alkaline hydrolysis – also known as water or green cremation, this water-based process uses alkaline chemicals, heat, pressure, or agitation to accelerate natural decomposition (Maine is among the few states that allow this option.)
• A “green” or natural burial, in which the body is placed in a biodegradable container without being embalmed (a chemical process to prevent decomposition). Green cemeteries, such as the Baldwin Hill Conservation Area, are located throughout Maine.
• A traditional burial – The body is put in a casket buried in or above ground; the process usually includes embalming. This option tends to be the most expensive.
When you've decided what will happen to your remains, discuss your plans with your loved ones, and with their permission, name someone to handle them. An ideal time to talk about this issue is while you're thinking about your entire estate plan. To make your final arrangements known in writing, add them to an advance health-care directive, a letter of intent, or a standalone final disposition of remains document.
Planning and Paying for Your Final Arrangements
To relieve those closest to you from having to pay for your arrangements themselves, your options include:
• A mortuary trust agreement or account;
• A payable-on-death bank account to cover the costs; or
• A funeral prepayment plan.
With a mortuary trust, a bank or an insurance company will receive the funds and send them to your funeral home when necessary. You may prefer to avoid paying a funeral parlor directly because if it closes before your time comes, you might not get a refund. A mortuary trust is also a good option to consider during long-term care planning. When you establish a mortuary trust, you may speak to a funeral director about cremation or burial options, including an obituary. You can also consider other details for visitation, a funeral, or a memorial service, often at home or in a funeral parlor. As part of the ceremony, you may choose prayer cards and other mementos and any music you might want to have played. If you want to be buried, decide on a cemetery or another burial ground, which could require a headstone or a grave marker.
It's normal to feel uncomfortable over talking about death or considering your final arrangements ahead of time. But knowing your options can help relieve any fears you or your loved ones may have.
Even if you've made a decision now, you may change your mind later. While you review other parts of your estate plan every three years or when a major life event occurs, don't forget your final arrangements.
And if you need advice on your final disposition plans, our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys would be glad to help. Contact us online or call (207) 377-3966.