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Queen Elizabeth ll – organised to the end! The benefits of planning and pre-paying your own funeral in your estate plan

News

The recent passing of the United Kingdom’s longest-serving Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, triggered an emotional response with over 11.4 million people tuning in to watch Her Majesty’s funeral. The late Queen was a very organised person in public life. True to her wonderful, stoic personality, she played an active role in planning her own funeral which delivered all the pomp and ceremony we have come to expect from the Royal Family; however, you don’t need to be royalty to have your say about how you want your funeral to unfold, and what personal touches you would like included, explains Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills & Estates Lawyer Natalie Comerford.

Farewelling Queen Elizabeth II

Following the peaceful passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022, at Balmoral Castle, “Operation London Bridge” was set into motion.

The detailed plan was constructed throughout the past several decades, dating back as far as the 1960s, with the plan evolving significantly over time. It was put together by senior palace officials, government, local authorities and, of course, the sovereign herself.

The funeral plans facilitated how the public and the media would be informed of the Queen’s death, what the government’s response would be, when King Charles III would ascend the throne, where the state funeral was to take place, and the details of the state funeral formalities and other sentimental details.

Some of the personal touches the Queen contributed to the day included choosing Westminster Abbey as the location for the state funeral. This location was the personal preference of the Queen as it was where she was crowned, and where she married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947.

Another personal touch was the Queen’s request that her Piper, Pipe Major Paul Burns, play a final lament, “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep” to conclude the committal service.

The Queen also had a hand in the order of service as well as selecting the music and readings throughout the ceremony.

A final personal touch on the day was the appearance of the Queen’s beloved pets, who appeared during her funeral procession in the final moments before the coffin disappeared into Windsor Castle.

The Queen was well-known for her lifelong passion for animals including her iconic Corgis and ponies.

The detailed pre-planning of this operation and its execution was designed to exquisitely choreograph and convey the proceedings for public mourning and the transition of power that immediately follows the Monarch’s passing.

This demonstrates the utmost extremity in planning your funeral, and most people would not require such formality. Nevertheless, it is possible for anyone to plan their own funeral, which can be beneficial in various ways. Personal touches can honour family traditions, help those who are left behind feel comforted in knowing that they have adhered to someone’s personal wishes, and ensure you set the tone for your final goodbye.

Planning your funeral in your estate plan

The concept of death is seldom an enjoyable topic to think about or discuss, however no matter your age or health status, everyone should have a Will drafted and should leave at the least, basic instructions for their loved ones about their wishes, including what they want to happen to their body after death and where they want to rest in peace.

Organising your last goodbye can be a rewarding and empowering experience.

Pre-planning your funeral can provide peace of mind, by giving you the opportunity to direct and manage the decisions that your loved ones would otherwise face. This can help ease the grieving process and emotional stress upon your loved ones, providing them with a greater sense of closure and helping them feel like they are honouring you in the best way possible. 

Providing instructions in your Will about your funeral and body disposal can also help reduce conflict from arising between family members who may not necessarily see eye-to-eye on all the details.

If you do not leave a funeral plan in place, it is up to the executor of your Will to dictate the terms, details and amount spent on your funeral. If you have no estate planning documents in place (dying intestate), the highest priority person in the hierarchy set out in your specific state or territory’s Succession Law will inherit the right to decide what is done with your body and how your funeral will be planned.

It is important to note that wishes expressed in a Will are not legally binding. Ultimately, any instructions in relation to the date of the funeral, location of the funeral, and guest lists, will be the responsibility of the deceased’s legal personal representative. This will generally be the person/s appointed to be executor in the Will.

Legislation differs between states and territories. It is important that if you have specific wishes that you would like fulfilled, you discuss these arrangements with an experienced estate planning lawyer who can provide advice and document your instructions either in the body of your Will or in a Memorandum of Wishes. This will provide greater certainty that your funeral plan will proceed without a hitch and avoid administration issues or conflict within the family for your executor after you pass away.

What details can you include in your funeral plan?

Nobody knows your wishes as well as you do, and the celebration of your life after you pass includes so many details most people have never even considered.

It is only when you start discussing your estate plan and funeral wishes with an estate planning lawyer that you become aware of what instructions you may be able to leave your executor, and your loved ones.

The most common details people often include in their Will are:

  • Whether you wish to have a funeral or a memorial service
  • Preference between being buried or cremated
  • Preference of location for your funeral, service or where you wish your ashes to be scattered
  • A selection of poems, readings, or meaningful songs that you would like included at the service
  • Signature favourite foods or beverages you would like served

You can even request or plan for something quirky or out of the ordinary. There was a recent news story that was published about a local Gold Coast businesswomen who orchestrated a message to be sent to her nearest and dearest via aeroplane at her funeral.

The headline read “Gold Coast Woman has last laugh at her own funeral after arranging a cheeky stunt.” The woman had lost her battle with cancer this year, and as part of planning her own funeral, wanted to have the last laugh. She arranged for the plan to fly over the location of her funeral with a banner that read “I’m watching you… cry harder. M XXX”.

This stunt clearly reflected her great sense of humour. It’s important to note that an act like this would have been quite costly with the organiser no doubt pre-arranging the service and ensuring the costs were covered.

In most cases, the executor is only able to pay “reasonable costs” out of an estate to cover funeral expenses. A stunt such as the one just described would go beyond the parameters of “reasonable” spending. In order to facilitate something such as this, it is best to plan ahead, allocate specific funds, or provide specific directions to the executor to ensure the task can be carried out.

However it came to be, this act no doubt put a smile on those mourning under the flight path, and left a long-lasting impact on the loved ones saying their final goodbye.

The opportunities to leave a personal touch on your own funeral plans are almost endless, with the right planning and funding in place.

Here are a few more examples of extraordinary personal funeral touches:

Options for pre-arranged funeral plans

In Australia, there are several options to prearrange a funeral, including prepaid funerals, funeral insurance, and funeral bonds. In most cases without a pre-arranged funeral plan, the funeral is paid from your estate.

Prepaid funeral

A prepaid funeral is essentially an agreement with a funeral home or service provider. The arrangement involves making a lump-sum payment or instalments that cover the cost of your future funeral service. You can lock in a price and potentially save money over the long term. You should be careful to select a reputable company that provides these services. There have been recent cases of providers becoming insolvent and not honouring pre-paid plans.

Funeral insurance

Funeral insurance can help loved ones meet unexpected funeral costs by providing payment to assist with funeral expenses. It is critical to read the fine print before committing, as some policies only cover accidental death for the first 12 months, and the premiums can increase as you age.

Funeral bonds

Funeral bonds are an investment that enables you to accumulate funds to meet future funeral costs. Investing in a funeral bond is akin to life insurance, whereby the benefit is payable upon death. However, it’s also significant that, unlike a prepaid funeral, the funeral bond contributes to a portion of funeral expenses but does not guarantee full coverage of those costs.

Funeral payment from your estate

Funeral expenses are considered estate expenses, and you can stipulate certain funds in your estate to be put towards your funeral.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping you plan for the future and uphold your wishes

The first step in properly documenting your wishes is to have your Will drafted by an experienced estate planning lawyer to ensure your affairs are handled the way you want them to be. Attwood Marshall Lawyers have one of Australia’s largest and most experienced Wills and Estates teams. Our estate planning lawyers practice exclusively in this complex area of law and have the skill set to implement the most appropriate succession planning strategies for you and your family. They are trained to listen and connect with their clients to be able to identify what matters most and formulate a personalised strategy for the individual and their estate.

To discuss your estate plan or document your wishes properly, contact our Wills and Estates Department, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or free call 1800 621 071 anytime to make an appointment with one of our estate planning lawyers.

You can also make an appointment by using our online booking app (click here!). Our lawyers can meet with you at any of our conveniently located offices at CoolangattaKingscliffRobina Town CentreBrisbaneSydney, or Melbourne.

Read more:

Outlining funeral wishes in your Will

Superannuation and succession – Important things to consider when doing your estate plan and your Will

Common estate planning mistakes to avoid

Planning for 2022: Get your estate plan done and give yourself peace of mind in the new year

 

 

 

 

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Natalie Comerford - Lawyer - Wills & Estates

Natalie Comerford

Associate
Wills & Estates

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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