Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Linda Wasielewski

Estate Planning: End of Life Choices – not the same for everyone

When we complete an estate plan – one of the components is a Power of Attorney for Health Care.  While we may need an advocate to assist us in getting better from a severe illness or accident, it may also involve the end of life.

Not everyone makes the same choice.  Some would like to live as long as possible and use every medical available.  Others do not choose that road.


The following is an article about Norma – a 90 year old woman who decided to forego cancer treatment in order to go on the trip of a lifetime around the United States.


The end of her life will come more quickly – but it will be lived with gusto.



Estate Planning: So Why Haven’t You Done Your Estate Plan?


The number one problem I see with regard to estate planning is that people don’t do it.  Why is that?

Many feel that they do not own enough “stuff” to warrant an estate plan.  Others cannot make the hard decisions and so they put it off.  Some are simply unable to come to terms with their own mortality – they just cannot confront the fact that one day they will not be here anymore.  There are those that were raised not to talk about these kind of things.

All of these are normal thoughts that many others just like you have.  These are not the reason to put this important planning issue on the back burner any longer.  Don’t let these excuses be the reason to put this off any longer.

If you are young with small children, you need at a minimum a Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation.  While you may not have very many assets, your Will is the only place that you can nominate the individual that would be the guardian and conservator of your children if you died.  While it is not the ordinary course for young parents to both die, it does happen.  Don’t leave your children without the protection of a qualified individual to care for them.  You are the one that knows best about this.  Don’t leave it for a Probate Judge to try to figure out.

While young, you could also become disabled.  Without a Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation, your family would have to go to Probate Court to have a Guardian and Conservator appointed for you.  In the meantime, your medical care would be guided by doctors and nurses who do not know what your thoughts are about medical treatment.  The process is costly – both economically and time-wise.  Be prepared.  Have these documents completed.

Some couples have difficulty when it comes to dividing up their estate or appointing their agents.  This is understandable.  If you cannot agree, you can each put down what you want.  While this is not ideal, it is better than having no documents at all.  If you do not have a Will, your property will be distributed according to the laws of the state you are living in.  You may agree with that, or not.

Remember also that these documents can be amended and changed over time.  You are not stuck forever with today’s choices.  As your opinions change, you can change your documents to reflect your new thinking.

All of us need estate plans.  We need to plan for the future – for the good and for the bad.  When you have finished this task, you will feel a weight lifted from your shoulders as you know that you have taken care of your family for a future in which you are not there.

When do we need to do estate plans?  Today.  Get it done.  Get it off of your bucket list.

Funeral Planning – How did all this start?


As I researched the issues concerning funerals and burials in Michigan, I found an interesting history.

Until the time of the Civil War, burials in America were all “green” funerals.  When an individual died, his or her family washed and dressed the body.  It was usually laid out upon a table or in a homemade wooden casket in the home parlor which was kept cool.

After receiving visitation from family, friends, and neighbors, there was a simple funeral.   The body was often buried upon the individual’s own land if he or she lived in the country.  If the individual was a city dweller, it was done in a city cemetery.  There were no metal caskets, no vaults and no embalming.

During times of war, those who were killed in battle were buried by their fellow soldiers near where they were killed.  The family simply received a notification that their loved one had died in battle.

Then came the Civil War.  Many of the soldiers, from the North and the South, were from affluent families.  They wanted their sons to come home for burial.  The transportation of the bodies was slow and the bodies deteriorated before they could arrive home.

In order to diminish the body’s deterioration, the bodies were embalmed.  This preserved the bodies sufficiently to permit them to be shipped home for interment.

The custom of embalming took hold in America when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  His widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, wanted him embalmed to preserve his looks.  His body was taken around the country prior to burial.  America was impressed with the lifelike appearance of the body after embalming.

In the United States and Canada, embalming has been the standard for over one hundred years.  It should be noted that this practice is not common in Europe, England, or the rest of the world.

Funeral Planning – Green Burials

Green funeral casket

For some, not of the options that have been previously outlined are quite right.  Some prefer a purely and totally natural option.  This has given rise to the “green” funeral and burial.

For some individuals, the concern with chemicals leeching into the ground and the “unnatural” aspect of preserving remains is at odds with the cycle of nature.  They would prefer to become one with the ground, providing nutrients for the plants and trees above them. The goal is to limit the environmental impact of the entire funeral process.

In Michigan, a funeral director must sign the death certificate and oversee the transportation of the deceased to the cemetery.  The family may, especially if the individual died at home, wash and prepare the body as was done in the old days.  It may also be necessary to take steps to chill the body to slow decomposition.  While this may seems to many today as an uncomfortable task, there is much written by those who have done this for loved ones.  They have found it comforting and it has assisted them in having closure.

A green burial involves being interred in a biodegradable container such as unfinished wood, cardboard, a wicker basket or none at all.  The body itself would be placed into cotton clothing or a shroud.  All materials must be natural.

Some opt for no container, being wrapped in a shroud and simply lowered directly into the ground.  Again, for some, this is not a comfortable conclusion for the body of a loved one.  For others, there is peace and satisfaction in knowing that they are becoming one with the earth.

For those who have opted to be cremated first, there are biodegradable urns which are designed to degrade and minimize the impact upon the environment.

If you have opted to be buried upon your own property, as was outlined earlier, your family may conduct its own service and lower your body into the ground.

Additionally, there are, in Michigan, “green” cemeteries.  One is here in Northern Michigan on Old Mission Peninsula.  A gravesite can be purchased from Peninsula Township.


Funeral Planning – Burials

graveside funeral image

For those who do not wish to be cremated, several burial options are available that should be thoughtfully considered.

There is the traditional funeral with burial in which the body is embalmed, viewed and then buried in a cemetery.  As stated in previous blogs, embalming is not required unless the body will not be buried within 48 hours.

There is no Michigan law that requires a casket.  Cemeteries do require a rigid burial container.  You are under no legal requirement to purchase that from the funeral home.

Most cemeteries require a vault.  This is required to maintain the level surface of the cemetery.  Without vaults, the land over the casket would subside as the casket deteriorates.

Many individuals opt for embalming, a metal sealed casket and a vault as they believe that their loved one’s body will be protected and remain preserved.  This is not the case.  While the sealing of a casket will prevent oxygen from accelerating decomposition, there is anaerobic bacteria in the body that thrives when there is a lack of oxygen.  While sealing the casket and placing it into a vault may impede the elements, eventually, water will invade the vault and the casket.  These measures will not provide perpetual protection.

The measures that you select and the cost of employing these measures are an individual matter.

You may chose, if you live on acreage outside of the city, to bury a loved one on your own land.  You must first obtain zoning approval, a survey of the land to be used, and a permit from the health department.  It will be important to locate the burial area away from ground water.  This was a practice that was very common a hundred years ago.  Today, it is less common. This is not an option on a platted city lot and even with acreage, there will be a limitation as to the proximity of a neighbor’s property.

You must be mindful if this is the option that you select, that it may make your land difficult to sell in the future if it has a family burial ground upon it.

Funeral Planning – Cremation

Cremation urn

We have previously examined choices that are available for each of us concerning embalming and the use of a traditional wooden or metal casket.

Today, we will examine Cremation.

Cremation has become a lower cost option that has increased in popularity.  Considerations include whether you will desire a period when you are to be viewed by your loved ones, or whether you would prefer direct cremation with a memorial service.

Such a selection will influence whether embalming will be necessary.  If you prefer direct cremation, then embalming will not be necessary.  If, on the other hand, you desire a more traditional viewing by family and friends, the embalming may become a necessity due to the time element.

If you do select the more traditional viewing, you or your loved ones will select a wooden casket, as opposed to a metal one.  If you are choosing direct cremation, then you may decide that a simple unfinished wooden box or cardboard container is sufficient.

You will need to make a plan for your ashes or cremains.  Some elect to have them placed into an urn.  These can then be maintained at a family member’s home, or they can be buried.

If you prefer that your ashes be scattered, then there are some additional considerations.

You may scatter ashes upon your own property.  This is legal and acceptable.

Prior to scattering ashes upon public land, you should check with the city or county to see whether there is an ordinance concerning this issue.   The same caveat applies with federal properties.  You should request permission first.  If you want to scatter ashes in a National Park, you should consult the National Park Service website.

If you scatter ashes at sea, it must be greater than three (3) nautical miles off the shore pursuant to the Clean Water Act.  Additionally, you must notify the EPA within thirty (30) days that you have done so.  The Clean Water Act also governs inland waters.  As cremains are not considered a pollutant, there appears to be no prohibition against scattering them upon the waters.

Funeral Planning – Our Rights

Funeral cortege

Funeral Planning – Our Rights

Since we now have the right to dictate our own final plans through a Designation of Funeral Representative, it is important to understand our rights and the availability of options.

Embalming.  There is no requirement that you be embalmed if you are going to be buried or cremated within 48 hours.  While many funeral homes and funeral directors will urge this practice, it is not mandatory.

Caskets.  There is no law which requires a casket.  If you wish to be cremated, you need not have an expensive wooden casket.  Most cremation services do require a container; however, this may be an inexpensive alternate container made of unfinished wood or cardboard.

If you wish to be buried, again, there is no requirement that you have a casket; however, the individual cemeteries are free to establish their own rules concerning interment.  I will discuss “green funerals” in a future post.

You do not have to purchase your casket from the funeral home that you use.  Federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that families have purchased from other sources such as on-line, or home made.

As you can see, there are choices available to us and to our families when it concerns our final plans.  You must educate yourself ahead of time and have these plans detailed and ready.

Estate Planning – Funeral Planning


When clients engage in Estate Planning we plan for a number of matters.  Wills or Trusts provide for property disposition after death.  Durable Power of Attorneys provide protection for our financial and legal affairs during our lifetimes if we are disabled.  Patient Advocate Designations or Medical Power of Attorneys provide for a continuum of medical care if we are disabled and unable to communicate our medical treatment preferences.

Now we have a new planning tool.  The Designation of Funeral Representative is permitted in Michigan.

This permits an individual to name other individuals who they know and trust to have the authority to dictate their funeral at death.  Under the prior law, the next of kin was legally authorized to make the arrangements even if those arrangements were not in keeping with the wishes of the deceased.

Now you can name anyone other than the funeral director, to plan your funeral in accordance with your own wishes.  This assures that it will be done your way.  Whether you want cremation, embalming, traditional interment, or a green funeral, your preferences will be followed in spite of family members who object.

It is important to make this designation to assure that your final wishes are honored.

Estate Planning – The Family Vacation Home – golden memories or family discord?


As we wrap up another beautiful summer in Northern Michigan, many are closing up the family vacation home for another season. For many parents and grandparents, these homes hold the fondest memories of magical summers filled with good times and warm feelings.

You may dream of leaving this vacation home for your children to pass down and enjoy for generations to come. But is this what your children really want?

While your children enjoyed their childhood days at the summer cottage, they may not be eager to recreate this experience again. Life is different today.

Parents and grandparents are often surprised and disappointed to find that their children and grandchildren do not want the responsibility of a summer vacation home. They are not interested in re-creating the memories of childhood. They are eager to move on to new experiences in new places.

While you may dream of your family gathered around the campfire long after you are gone, it may be that they do not share your dream. Often children hang onto family property, not because they want to, but because of a sense of guilt. It’s what Mom wanted.

It may be difficult to believe that what you want to give to your children is not, for them, going to be a blessing, but a source of guilty feelings and sibling discord.

As you close up the summer cottage, now may be a good time to have a conversation with your children and grandchildren. Find out how they truly feel about the home, both now and into their future. You may find that alternative planning is required.

© Copyright 2015
Linda E Wasielewski, P.L.C. by awasielewski