We like to think we are well-organized (at least I prefer to most of the time). We keep track of our bank accounts, our credit card balances, and our investments. We check our credit scores regularly. And, as we mature, and absolutely once we have children, we most certainly make plans for how our estates will be handled upon our death — we have wills, trusts, and/or directed beneficiaries named.
Everything seems to be in place, or is it?
No one really wants to think or talk about their own death, but it is inevitable and it could occur without warning. And there may be two important elements of that inevitability that you have not planned for.
Why now shouldn’t be the time to take control of them, so that you save your loved ones the complex decision-making and tasks they must perform when they are emotional and grieving?
Control of Your Body
Up to this point, you have been in charge of your body — what you eat, health decisions, and so forth. And you certainly want to be in control to some extent when and if you become incapacitated. Hopefully, you have planned for that with medical surrogate designees and a living will. But what are your desires upon death? Have you considered the many options you have and decided on one of them?
If not, you need to do this now. You get to decide, based on your religious beliefs, expenses involved, and your own comfort level. Don’t let anyone take that control out of your hands. Make your choice now, lock it in, and be certain your family members know about it.
Traditional Mortuary and Burial Process: If this is what you wish, plan and pay for it now. Visit a local mortuary you trust and let them take you through making all of the arrangements — the service, the casket, the cemetery plot, and so forth. Once you have completed all of these arrangements, make copies, distribute it to all of your immediate family members, and give a copy to your lawyer if you have one. Cost of a traditional funeral? $8,000 to $10,000.
Cremation: People are opting for cremation for a number of reasons. While some see it as gruesome, others believe that it is a cleaner and more environmentally conscious method. One of the problems with traditional burials is, of course, land space being continually taken. But there are environmental concerns as well. Most caskets are not biodegradable, and they do leak. Toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, can seep into the soil.
Cremation, on the other hand, uses no land space and is environmentally responsible. If you opt for cremation, you should understand that there are strict laws regarding the process. All cremations must occur individually, and every corpse must be assigned a number with a metal disc that accompanies the body through the entire process. This, of course, prevents a family from receiving the wrong remains.
What happens to your ashes is also up to you — and you make that decision when you complete the pre-planning with either a mortuary or a local crematory organization. Again, give your loved ones copies of your contract/plan so that they know who to call upon your death. Cost of cremation? $750 to $1,000.
Donation to Science: Medical schools use donated corpses for instructional and research purposes, and, particularly when they have diseases that are terminal, some people believe that they should contribute some value in their death. Non-diseased corpses are also received as well, so this is an option for anyone. Ultimately, bodies donated to science are either cremated or resonated, something we’ll discuss next. Cost of donation? $0.00.
Aquamation (Also Called Resonation): Aquamation is not new; it has just not been used for normal funeral procedures until recently. Now, however, it has become quite popular in Australia, is in use by medical schools to dispose of cadavers, and, in some states, is now legal for individuals. This process involves placing the body in a container of potassium-hydroxide-water solution, heated to about 200ᴼ F.
It takes about four hours for the body to decompose except for the skeleton, which is then ground up and provided to family members. The benefit of this process is that it is more energy efficient and the remaining liquid can be recycled for irrigation purposes. Cost of this procedure? About the same as cremation.
It’s a good thing that you can have control over your remains — take charge of this now and make sure your wishes are upheld. And, while you are doing that, take control over the other truly critical element of your death: Make certain that your identity is not stole after you pass on — something that can actually impact the distribution of your estate and cause more grief for your loved ones.
Control of Your Identity After Death
Death certificates are a matter of public record, but, in order to obtain them and thus lots of personal information about a deceased person, individuals have to have some familial relationship and present their identification. Identity thieves do not go this route if they want to steal a dead person’s identity.
Criminals have been able to hack into the Social Security Administration records (this is being “cleaned up” now) and they have been able to read obituaries, discover funeral plans, and break into homes to gather all sorts of identifying information about the deceased, along with drivers’ licenses, credit cards, etc.
They use this info to file taxes and get refunds, to run up credit cards and to open new lines of credit. If this happens after you are deceased, it is your loved ones who will have to go through the process of cleaning up the mess, and, in some cases, the mess has delayed estate distribution to heirs.
You can take steps now to avoid this by leaving specific instructions with your family members:
1. Delete Your Social Media Accounts: Most people don’t think of this, but it is one way that thieves can get all sorts of personal information about you if they intend to use your identity.
2. Use antivirus protection: Make sure you antivirus protection on your computer continuously, so that no one has gotten in while you are still alive. Instruct loved ones to remove your hard drive and take it to a trusted person or company for wiping before they dispose of it or pass it on to a relative.
3. Keep all of your bank statements, credit card statements, tax returns, and all other documents that have identifying information in one place. If you go into the hospital, someone should come and get them for safe-keeping. And, after your death, they must be shredded or burned, even those with old addresses. Anything that is more than seven years old, you can start destroying now.
4. Notify all three credit bureaus: They will require original copies of your death certificate, so be certain your family knows that. Once they are notified, no one can establish any credit in your name or under your social security number.
5. Notify all banks and credit card companies: Again, they will require original death certificates, but, once accomplished, those cards will be immediately de-activated. And do not forget to have either a TOD (transfer on death) or a power of attorney designee on all of your bank accounts, so that funds can be accessed.
6. Notify the Social Security Administration: This is the best way to prevent anyone from filing tax returns in your name. And a final tax return should be filed by an immediate family member as your “personal representative.”
In 2015, 306 tax returns were filed fraudulently in the names of recently deceased individuals by a ring in Detroit Michigan, using stolen social security numbers. This identity protection is just as important in death as it is in life.