“How Would You Like to Be Buried?” Having a Difficult Conversation With Your Spouse

Advance Directives

Posted on September 05, 2018 by

While many of us have some idea of what we’d like to happen when we die, talking about it can be difficult.  And when it comes to discussing funerals, burials, and other related topics, spouses may find those final stages challenging to consider. Fortunately, there are ways to approach this topic that will make it easier on you both.

Here are some things to consider when starting a tough conversation with your spouse about your own passing.

Initiate the Conversation

Don’t wait for someone else to ask you about your final wishes – you will need to initiate the conversation yourself.  Of course, there are two ways to start a conversation about an uncomfortable topic – directly or indirectly – and the approach you choose is largely dependent on your own preferences and the type of relationship you have with your spouse.

A direct approach could be simple and straightforward.  Something like, “I’ve been thinking about how I would want to be buried--can we talk about it?” or “I’d like to tell you about my wishes for what I want to happen when I pass away” gets right to the point. This opens the door for a direct and healthy discussion about your wishes.

A more indirect approach could start with a question, such as, “Have you ever thought about where you would like your burial?” or “Have you ever thought about what you’d want your funeral to be like?”  This creates a bit more of an open-ended conversation and solicits the participation of your spouse. Either approach will allow you to start a conversation about your personal wishes after death.

Do Not Wait Until the Last Minute

When approaching such a sensitive topic, reassure your spouse to ease any concerns that might arise about your health status. Having this conversation while you are in good health (if possible) ensures that your spouse and other family members will focus on your wishes and not on health.

If you are in poor health, it is not too late to share your wishes. Spouses and other family members may have a harder time remembering all the details under stress, so choose a quiet time to bring up the subject when everyone can listen.

Either way, be sure to share your preferences with your spouse as well as everyone else who might be involved in the planning to make sure everyone is on the same page. You can use a resource such as our My Funeral Wishes to help guide the conversation and ensure you are not missing anything important.  Having all your plans in place ahead of time will ease the stress of those involved down the road.  

Add Your Wishes to Your Will

This is an important one. Depending on the state in which you live, those in charge of planning your funeral might not have any legal obligation to carry out your wishes unless you make those wishes a part of your will. So, while you likely trust your spouse and your family to carry out your directives when you’re gone, often people can become forgetful or make poor decisions when under the stress associated with the loss of a loved one.  It’s always better to have everything spelled out ahead of time so there is no room for arguments or opinions of others down the road, which could lead to resentment or negative feelings between your spouse and the rest of your family.

Choose an executor you trust and start a conversation about the terms of your plan. Clarify any questions so nothing is left open for interpretation.

Create a Paper File, and Perhaps a Digital File Too

If you have pre-planned your funeral, be sure your family knows where you put the paperwork they will need. At the very least, this file should contain:

  • Your legal will

  • A complete checklist for your funeral service requests

  • Your choice of burial or cremation

  • If you choose burial, be sure to document your final resting place. Include any relevant paperwork such as a receipt for a plot, crypt or other burial site. Also, include your wishes concerning a casket.

  • If you choose cremation, include your instructions for the disposal of the ashes including specific details. If you want to have them buried, include any relevant information in the file.

  • Written directions for your service. Include the type of service, where it will happen, and anyone involved. Requests can include a specific person to perform the service, a particular location or an informal vs. formal service.

  • If you have prepaid for body disposition or funeral arrangements, include receipts.

  • If you have insurance to cover costs, be sure your file contains paperwork for family members to redeem the policy.

  • Any details you wish to share with family members. These could include special flowers, music, speakers, pallbearers, or anything else important to you.

Funerals360 offers a free online tool called My Funeral Wishes, which makes it easy for you to fill out and maintain your final wishes in a format that is easy to print and share electronically.

Having a plan will cut down some of the stress when the inevitable happens. A clear plan, communicated with your spouse and family, will give everyone involved peace of mind knowing they have carried out your wishes and left nothing to chance.  And don’t forget to encourage your spouse to share their wishes with you as well. It is never too early to have plans in place.

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