Your Right, Your Choice, Your Decision
1. Explore your options.
You probably have some idea about what you want in after death arrangements. That idea may be fuzzy and vague, or clear as day. Make sure you take into account how your body will be prepared for its final disposition, and the final disposition itself. Those are the two basic parts of your after death arrangements.
You may want to add to that basic plan the rites and ceremonies of your particular faith/spiritual community. Or perhaps a celebration of life event. Is it important to you that your body or its cremated remains be present for a ceremony or celebration? If you're thinking cremation (green or flame), you may envision a scattering of your ashes in some favorite spot. If you want Cousin Sue to keep your ashes at home, you first need to get Sue to agree. Beyond that, make sure you give Sue instructions about your preference for the final-final disposition - destination - of your ashes. Sue won't live forever. And those ashes won't bury or scatter themselves.
Beyond that, you can compare today's prices for say, cremation, or natural burial. Obviously, prices will change, and the longer you're around, it's likely that new options will come onto the market.
Consider whether you want your remains to be interred somewhere: body or ashes buried in the ground or entombed in a crypt or niche. This would entail some form of marker memorializing you. Or perhaps you're thinking of a living memorial of some kind.
2. Know your rights.
See Rights, Rules, Laws on this website. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule spells out what funeral homes are required to do, as well as your right to choose only those after-death products and services you want.
The manual "Choices" from the Minnesota Department of Health, spells out the legal rights you have in caring for your own dead, with only the minimum involvement of a funeral home.
3. Have a conversation.
With the person or persons you want to carry out your plans, and with your closest family members. It's especially important to have a conversation with close family members who may disagree with your plans, say, for religious reasons, or because the family's always done it this way, and what would the neighbors think?
It's possible your family doesn't like talking about death and dying. That's OK. It's the same with many American families. Because of this, it might help to get some coaching, perhaps from a trusted friend. There are a number of helpful online resources for talking about end of life health care choices, but not how to tell Mom and Dad you've decided to be buried in a natural cemetery instead of the family plot. Many people find it helpful to put in writing what they'll say to family members who may find the conversation difficult or threatening. Only you can decide how to approach it.
Don't forget to sound out friends. If someone you know well has recently - but not too recently - experienced the death of a loved one, and was involved in making after death arrangements, ask if they'll talk about the experience. It may give you some ideas about how to talk with your family members.
4. Decide on a plan.
Decide what you'd want to have happen in the best of all possible worlds: perhaps that's dying in your bed at the ripe old age of 104. Then consider whether that plan would similarly work if - not to be morbid about it - you stepped off a curb next week, and...
Decide who you want to carry out your plans. It may be your spouse, or oldest child, a best friend, or Cousin Sue, bless her heart. Whoever you name first has to agree to do it. Choose someone you think will be able to take on the pain of your death while at the same time carrying out your plans. Not everyone can do that. And there's no dress rehearsal for it. So choose wisely.
5. Put your plan in writing.
Use the form here that Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota has designed, or some other pre-printed form. You can also create your own written plan. Just make sure you sign and date it, and that it's witnessed. The important thing is to put it in writing. You can change it anytime.
6. Share your plan.
Once you've put your plan in writing, give a copy to the person who will be responsible for carrying out your plans, as well as to your closest family members.
7. Put money aside, if possible.
However simple your after death arrangements are, they're going to cost some money. If you're plans are elaborate and costly, and you die without enough money to cover them, the person you appoint to carry out your plans is under no obligation to cough up the difference. You may have heard of pre-paid funeral plans.
See Should I pay in advance? for information about these pre-pay plans (which we discourage, for the most part), and other ways to put money aside that will give you, and the person in charge of your arrangements, more flexibility.
8. Change your mind, anytime.
Many people put off the task of making after death arrangements with the excuse that they anticipate a change in lifestyle, or residence, or you name it. Remember, if you die without a plan, your after death arrangements become a guessing game for those who will bear the burden of carrying them out. Remember: You. Can. Change. Your. Mind. Anytime. Simply redo your planning form and let others know about it. If they think you're fickle, tough. As you may have heard it said, it's your funeral.