Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

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

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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?

Chair

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.

ESTATE PLANNING: Can you loan your children money? For College? For Automobiles?

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You have the money and your child needs a loan.  The rates for student loans or for a car loan are high.  Should you be the bank?  Should you or can you loan your child money?

Yes.  You can.  There are times when an outright gift is not appropriate.  You may feel that it is appropriate for your child to earn what he or she desires.  If you are financially able, then a loan is an option.

There are some requirements that must be followed to be in line with the IRS and with Estate Planning concepts as well.  The loan must be in writing and must specify the amount of the loan, the interest being charged, the time over which it must be paid.

Why should it be in writing?   If challenged, you must be able to produce a document that is written and signed by the parties.  Additionally, if you pass away prior to the loan being paid off, it could be ignored by the child.  This could change the distribution of your estate by giving a windfall to one child over the others.

Why should there be interest?  If there is no interest on the loan, it is a gift.  There are minimum amounts of interest that must be charged for the loan to qualify as a loan for IRS purposes.  These interest rates vary and you must check to find the correct minimum at the time of the loan.

How to treat the interest?  This is a loan and the interest that is paid is income to you.  It must be claimed on your income tax return.

Can the loan be forgiven?  If the intent from the beginning is to forgive the loan, then it does not qualify as a loan.  It is a gift.  If however, due to a change in circumstances, you decide that a part of the loan is to be forgiven, then it is permissible.  To the extent that the loan is forgiven, it is a gift and if over the threshold amount, must be claimed on a gift tax return.   You may also state in your estate plan that unpaid loans are forgiven and are not be counted as a portion of the distribution of your estate.

As long as you follow the rules, it is possible to be the bank and loan your children money.  It simply must be written down and above board.

Estate Planning: Aging as an “Elder Orphan”

Portrait of a senior woman contemplating. Isolated on black background.

It is becoming more common to find aging individuals who have no spouse and no children. While this may provide freedom in their younger years, it leads to more troublesome issues when they age.

There are the issues of isolation and loneliness. Additionally, there are concerns about assistance. Who will be there to help during a time of illness or incapacity.

This article gives some tips on how to prepare to age alone.

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/10/26/no-spouse-no-kids-no-caregiver-how-to-prepare-to-age-alone?src=usn_fb

Estate Planning: YOUR KIDS NEED LOANS FOR COLLEGE – BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU CO-SIGN

college-loans & parents.pdf

As a parent of kids that went to college, I know how costly college, cars and living for them become. Although they are adults (over 18) they still need our help.

Unfortunately, this comes at a time when we should be mindful of protecting our estates for our retirement. A “little” help can cost a parent substantially.

This is especially true when it comes to co-signing loans. It seems innocent enough to do. You co-sign, they get the loan, they will pay it off. This could be for a car or for a non-federally backed student loan.

Under most circumstances, this works out really well for everyone concerned. We want to be optimistic and look forward to a great future for our children. However, there are pitfalls, as a New Jersey family recently found. http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/national/article87576072.html

When their college daughter murdered, they were grief stricken. Immediately thereafter, they were shocked when the state of New Jersey informed them that they were on the hook for their daughter’s student loans through the state. While the federally backed student loans are waived upon the death of the student; that is not the case for all loans. Nor would it be the case of a car loan through a bank or credit union.

Read the fine print and ask lots of questions. If your child were to die prior to the loan being paid off, would you be held responsible for the repayment? This could be financially devastating to your retirement plans if you had to pay off a $50,000 loan.

Be helpful for your children. Be wise for your own financial security.

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