Would you like fries with that?

hawk in flightHere’s a question too few people ever answer:  After you die, who do you want to decide what kind of funeral you have and what happens to your remains?

Probably the most common answer is “What do I care, I’ll be dead?”

Some people clearly do care.  Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, requested his body be cremated and shot into space.  (His ashes were carried into space by a Spanish rocket in 1997).  Napoleon Bonaparte wanted his head shaved and the hair given out to his friends. Another gentleman directed that his funeral procession grab a whopper at the Burger King drive-thru on the way to the cemetary, to be buried with him. It’s unclear if he wanted fries, too.

Aside from doing unusual things, there’s a very important reason you should think about this question and come up with an actual answer.  Families that have twists and turns are the most vulnerable to black comedy movie worthy battles upon the death of an elderly member.  When there are children from a previous, or multiple, marriages, and a final spouse who is unrelated to some or any of the children, epic power struggles can emerge over, well, over anything really.

The struggle is real.  Grown children frequently feel they have more right to choose the final resting place for a mother or father than a spouse they may not know well or may actively dislike.  But in the eyes of the law, the spouse nearly always has the full authority to make all final decisions – that is, unless the deceased has properly spoken otherwise before his or her death.

While you, as the deceased, won’t have to deal with any fallout,  do you really want to create a situation where your loved ones spend time and money and psychic energy on whether you have a white casket or get cremated and dispersed in a firework instead of moving on with their life and treasuring happy memories of their time with you?

Do you really want your children to think you cared more about a new spouse than you did about them?

The solution is easy – make your wishes known in a legally enforceable way before you die.  You can either lay out all the details of your funeral and disposition of your body, or you can simply make clear which person in your life should be given authority to make all the decisions.  It’s up to you.  Doing nothing risks creating a family rift that could have been avoided and may never heal, and that’s not a pretty legacy to leave.