Funeral Instructions – Do They Matter?

Funeral Instructions

One of the benefits of making a Will is that you can narrate your funeral instructions and let your family know your specific wishes for your funeral. However, as you will not be here to know if these wishes have been carried out, is it really worth stipulating what should happen to your body and at your funeral service?

The inclusion of funeral instructions in your Will is a guide to your Executors and family and can be as straightforward or as complicated as you decide. However, at present, in Scots law, they are not binding and Executors are not obliged to follow these. Usually, if they are clearly set out, the deceased’s family will honour them.

It is important to make the distinction between Executors and family members. Executors are those people appointed in your Will to carry out your wishes (or those appointed by the Court if there is no Will) and may not be the same people you intend to arrange the funeral. However, the Executors need to know what is intended regarding any funeral arrangements, as the costs should be paid for from the deceased’s estate (assuming that the estate has sufficient funds to pay this).

Many questions arise when considering planning a funeral:- Who should arrange it? What do you want to happen? Who should pay for it? Do you have the funds? In practice, the funeral is usually arranged by the family members who take on such tasks as choosing a coffin, choosing readings etc. However, who should arrange the funeral and the type of service to take place can result in family tensions. The costs of a funeral can be prohibitive too, so it is essential you have thought about that. Usually the cost is a debt on the deceased’s estate, but the undertaker will want to be reassured about payment before accepting instructions. Some people arrange pre-paid funeral plans to remove the financial worry from their family.

So what reassurance can be given that funeral wishes will be carried out? Make your wishes clear and known to the right people, such as close relatives and discuss with the family.

Letter of Wishes

In addition to discussing your wishes with your family, a “Letter of Wishes” can be prepared to act as a guide. A Letter of Wishes can simply be signed by you and updated as often as you like should your wishes change. If you choose to make a Letter of Wishes, this should always be kept with your Will. It is also worthwhile ensuring that a copy is given to those closest to you who you expect will be attending to your funeral arrangements.

Donations to medical science

Some people wish to leave their bodies to medical science and, again, choose to narrate this wish in their Will. In Scotland, bodies donated to medical science are used for (i) anatomical examination, (ii) education and training, and (iii) research.

It is important to remember that university anatomy departments cannot guarantee that a donated body will always be accepted after death. This can be due to a number of factors which are only apparent after death. If you do wish to donate your body to medical science, it is essential that you discuss your wishes with your family. This is so that at the time of your death they are aware of your wishes in this regard and can seek to take the necessary steps in order to implement these wishes.

The decision to donate your body to medical science requires more of a formal process to be undertaken when you are still alive. For instance, most universities will require you to sign a “declaration of bequest application” in order that your body can be donated after your death. It is important to remember, however, that final decisions about whether a body can be accepted cannot be made until time of death.

Other points to consider

Burial or cremation? This can sometimes pose a difficult choice for people. If you wish a burial, it is important to consider if you already have a lair in a cemetery. If you do not have a lair, it is important to bear in mind that there are often substantial costs associated with the purchase of a lair, together with the local authority’s charges to “open up” the lair for burial or interment of ashes.

Should you wish to be cremated, it is important to consider what you wish to happen to your ashes afterwards. Again, this is something which should be discussed with your family and be included in your Will for guidance.

The type of ceremony to take place can also be narrated in your Will, in terms of whether you wish this to be religious or non-religious. The more information you can provide, the better, as this helps to manage your family’s expectations and ease the burden on them when deciding how to plan your funeral.

Although funeral instructions are not binding, for many people, for many reasons, the form and conduct of their funeral is extremely important to them. For that reason, it is worth having a conversation with your closest family members, together with documenting your wishes, to ensure that your requests are followed. If your funeral instructions are not included within your Will, we would always recommend they be narrated in a document that is readily available to the family so they know where to get it. Not only will this provide you with peace of mind, it will also assist your family in terms of knowing what you wish to happen when it comes to your funeral.

Should you wish to discuss including your funeral instructions in a Will, please do not hesitate to contact our Private Client team who would be happy to assist you.

Funeral instructions

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