As final and maudlin as it may seem, leaving instructions for your preferred funeral and burial wishes can help those you leave behind to handle final affairs with a sense of direction. You may also ward off disputes among friends and relatives with opinions on what they think you would have wanted.


Wills may include funeral and burial instructions, but the funeral and burial or cremation is usually over before the will is even reviewed. Your loved ones may not know if you have a will and, if you do have one, where it is located.


Religion, other spiritual practices and cultural mores and customs may dictate funeral and burial preferences. However, without clear written directions, even presumed plans may be ignored.


You may complete a form titled “Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains,” which can be found on the New York State Department of Health website (https://www.health.ny.gov/forms/doh-5211.pdf). You name an agent and successor agents to be in control of your remains. You may also specify your instructions about the disposition of your remains or leave it up to the decisions of your agent. If you haven’t completed the form, under New York Public Health Law, the following people, in descending order, have the right to control your remains: spouse, domestic partner, children, other family members and others.


Even without a legal form, you may simply state your funeral and burial instructions in writing, sign and date the document. In addition to committing your wishes to writing, you should give the document to the person who will oversee your affairs or inform that person of your wishes and the location of the document.


For funeral wishes, you may communicate your desires in writing or purchase a pre-paid funeral. A pre-paid irrevocable funeral trust purchased at a funeral home also protects assets from nursing-home costs when applying for Medicaid to pay for those costs.


Some people may want to donate organs on death by a simple designation on a driver’s license or other written statement. Donating your body for medical research or education is also an option. Donating your body requires researching medical schools or other institutions and organizations. The process may require an application and other paperwork that confirms the intent to donate the body. It is up to the family or others in charge who contact the organization or institution on the death of the donor. Often, the donor’s cremated remains are returned to the family following the use of the body.


Estate planning is commonly viewed as clear instructions to transfer assets on death. Clear instructions of funeral and burial wishes, along with organ or body donation, are also part of a comprehensive estate plan.


Bonnie Kraham is an attorney practicing elder law estate planning with Ettinger Law Firm, 75 Crystal Run Road, Middletown. She can be reached at 845-692-8700, ext. 119 or bkraham@trustlaw.com. This column is intended to provide general information, not legal advice.