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While taking care of loved ones financially is often the first reason people create an estate plan, a well-crafted estate plan also can help take care of loved ones emotionally at a time when they are grieving. Final disposition instructions, which name the people you want to oversee your funeral or other disposition arrangements as well as your wishes regarding how you want those arrangements to proceed, can help provide certainty and closure to your loved ones. They can also mitigate conflict around what can be an emotionally-charged decision.
Under Idaho law, you have the right to designate whom you want to control the disposition of your remains. The best way to do so is in a written document separate from your Will or Trust. In the same document, you also may express your wishes regarding cremation or burial, a funeral service or celebration of life, where you wish your ashes to be spread or your remains buried, and any other aspect of your disposition that is important to you and your loved ones. So long as you sign your final disposition instructions in front of witnesses or a notary, your agent designations and your directions are legally binding under Idaho law.
If you do not leave legally binding written instructions, Idaho law dictates who controls your final disposition. In order of priority, those are: (1) a person named as agent under a healthcare power of attorney; (2) a person named as agent under a financial power of attorney; (3) a competent surviving spouse; (4) a majority of competent surviving children; (5) the competent surviving parents; (6) the personal representative of the estate; and (7) a majority of those entitled to inherit. Moreover, the person is not bound to follow any wishes you might have expressed in conversation or otherwise if you did not follow the legal formalities of signing in front of witnesses or a notary public.
Including separate final disposition instructions in your estate plan can avoid the kind of conflict that we have seen when those left behind have different religious beliefs or otherwise disagree about the deceased’s wishes. For example:
After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Amanda prepared powers of attorney naming her son, Charles, as her healthcare agent and her daughter, Donna, as her financial agent. Although Amanda was happily married at the time, she and her wife, Betty, agreed that Betty was not great under crisis and therefore they preferred to name Amanda’s children to make health and financial decisions if Amanda became incapacitated.
Amanda then sat down with her wife and two children and told them that, after her death, she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in the city where she and Betty had met. Amanda also specifically stated that she did not want to be buried in her family’s historical plot because her parents had shunned Betty. During the conversation, Donna wrote her mother’s wishes down on the back of her copy of her financial power of attorney and Amanda initialed the handwritten notes.
After Amanda died, Charles immediately began making arrangements for Amanda to be buried in the family plot. When Betty and Donna reminded him of Amanda’s wishes, he stated that, as healthcare agent, he had the right to make final decisions and, regardless of what she might have said, it was only right that his mother be buried with her birth family. When a distraught Betty and Donna showed the funeral director Donna’s handwritten notes, the director stated that he was sympathetic but, under the law, he had to follow Charles’s direction.
Don’t put your loved ones through this additional emotional upheaval. Consult with a qualified attorney to properly document your final disposition wishes.