Meryl Streep had little time to prepare for her role, but gave a truly fine performance.

Nora Ephron, author of many fine films, turned out to be an expert when it came to planning her “exit” with detail, according to Next Avenue in “What Nora Ephron Can Teach Us About Planning a Funeral“.

Ephron’s attention to detail came as no surprise to her friends and family, although her death did come as a surprise. The meticulous care with which she planned her memorial was true to character. She gave it a title: “A Gathering for Nora” and set it out in a folder labeled “Exit.” It was thoughtful, personal and helped her family and friends grieve more effectively. However, you don’t have to be a celebrated author to do this kind of planning. You can—and should—write down your wishes in your estate plan.

Most people don’t. A study conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association found that while nearly 75% of Americans know it’s important to have a plan that is communicated before death, only about 25% do so.

However, some plan a very personal exit. Designer Alexander McQueen’s memorial service at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral was as chic and au courant as any of his designs.

Funerals are typified by five “anchors”—significant symbols, a gathering community, ritual actions, cultural heritage and transition of the remains. Add another anchor: planning.

Here are lessons from Norah Ephron:

Decide what you want. Address key questions like:

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated? If cremated, where do you want your ashes to go?
  • Do you want a funeral or memorial service? Graveside service or a chapel?
  • What, if any, religious ceremony do you want?
  • How do you want your family and friends to grieve your loss or to celebrate your life?

Prepare for the financial aspect of your funeral. Consider prepaying, so that loved ones won’t be scrambling to pay for the funeral, which average from $8,000 to $10,000 and up. One widely available option: a small insurance policy dedicated to the cost of the funeral or a Payable on Death (POD) account set aside for that same reason.

Don’t be afraid to plan your funeral. You can be as structured and specific as you want, and your loved ones will be relieved to not need to make any further decisions. Want to share a specific song or a prayer? Put it in your instructions. Ephron listed who she wanted to speak and for how long.

Planning your funeral in advance, along with having an estate plan prepared in advance, will let your family and loved ones know that you cared enough to prepare, so that they would be spared the heavy lifting that comes when there are no plans in place.

An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your particular circumstances and can include your funeral plans.

Reference: Next Avenue (Aug. 31, 2018) “What Nora Ephron Can Teach Us About Planning a Funeral

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.