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Legal Notes

Seunghee ChaAttorney Seunghee Cha

Planning for a funeral

Funeral planning eases the burden on loved ones of making arrangements in a time of grief. This article provides guidance on options and some basics you should know.

Funeral trust

You can purchase a “pre-need” funeral contract from a funeral establishment, which must deposit the payment in a trust account of a Massachusetts bank. A trustee manages the account and upon your death the funds pay for goods and services included in the contract, such as basic services for arranging logistics, cremation/embalming, and burial.

Funeral Life Insurance Policy or Annuity

Some funeral establishments offer life insurance and annuities specifically to pay for pre-need funeral contracts. Anyone selling such products must comply with all state and federal laws and regulations governing the insurance industry, including licensing requirements.

Bank account

You can open a separate account to defray the cost of funeral expenses. The account is in your name and is labeled as a “burial” account.

Veterans

Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemeteries are located in Agawam and Winchendon. No fee is charged for the funeral of an eligible veteran, and a nominal fee is charged for spouses, widows and widowers, and qualified dependents.

Organ donation

You must obtain a donor card from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Only you can register to become a donor — someone else cannot do it for you.

Green burial

With a national conversation growing about “good death,” so is interest in environmentally conscious, green burials. Communities in our area where green burials are allowed include Chesterfield, Conway, Shutesbury, Wendell, Amherst, and Westfield. Local town/city clerks issue permits and provide guidelines for documenting the death and lawful possession, proper handling, and transport of the body.

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO…

  • Cancel a pre-need funeral contract, including the type funded with life insurance or annuity, within 10 days of signing without penalty;
  • Receive a written price list of goods and services offered;
  • Receive price information on the telephone (without disclosing your name and contact information);
  • Buy goods and services separately: you need not buy a package;
  • Use an alternative casket or urn for cremation without paying an extra fee.

SHOP AROUND, ASK QUESTIONS, GET IT IN WRITING.

  • What happens if the funeral establishment goes out of business?
  • What happens if you move or die while away from home?
  • Itemized list of goods and services;
  • Cancellation policy, commissions, and fees.

PRACTICAL TIPS

  • Make funeral instructions easily accessible by family after your death.
  • Joint ownership of burial accounts permits ready access by the survivor.
  • Organ donors should make an alternative plan in case the body cannot be accepted.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.